The Jerusalem Puzzle, Laurence O’Bryan’s second book, is a tense conspiracy thriller. Just my kinda book! But written on the back cover were words that struck fear into this crime reviewers dark heart. More terrifying than the promised roller-coaster ride of kidnap, murderous immolation, simmering civil unrest and mysterious ancient documents (phew!) were the words -emblazoned! – (oh alright, written slightly more prominently than the rest of the blurb) – ‘In the tradition of Dan Brown’.
Y’see I’m not a fan. Of Dan Brown that is. I’m sure Laurence is great! But, sigh, The Da Vinci Code… I can tell you what I thought of the Da Vinci code if you are foolish enough to ask me. But once you’ve summoned the doctor and his strongest tranquilizer, you’ll be quite anxious about reading my review of The Jerusalem Puzzle…
But fear not!
Thankfully, within a couple of pages of starting this book, it became obvious that we were in different worlds – it was the hare and the tortoise. Brown’s DVC was a frenetic sprint. The Jerusalem Puzzle, on the other hand, envelops you. In the City, it’s people, it’s secrets. O’Bryan’s love of research screams itself from every page, but not in an obvious ‘this is the bit I googled’ way, but in a way that tells you the author knows the location, the sights, the sounds, the smells.
I liked our lead characters, Sean Ryan, Isabel Sharp. I immediately warmed to them. And this is half the battle with any novel, if your audience like your protagonist, you can just about take them anywhere. And it’s on quite a journey we are taken here.
The action begins with the murder of Max Kaiser, a past associate of our heroes, and the disappearance in Jerusalem of another, Doctor Susan Hunter. Feeling responsible, they travel there to see if they can help track down Hunter, if she is even still alive. They find gruesome details of Kaisers demise – tortured and fiery death, and evidence that Susan’s disappearance is indeed linked to it all.
Fighting official indifference and an escalation in domestic tensions, O’Bryan nicely draws us in as the plot unfolds. The wider cast of characters, some from their past, also nicely elevates the personal tensions between Ryan and Sharp.
And as our heroes become desperate to locate the missing academic before it’s too late and work out why in the first place she has been taken, a malevolent presence is happily plotting local and international mayhem. Good and evil. As it should be.
So, far, so good.
Sounds like the perfect novel then?
Alas, I did have a quibble. But unlike the unmentionable Mr Brown, it isn’t a hanging offense.
The Jerusalem Puzzle is the middle of three books, a loose trilogy (The Istanbul Puzzle and the upcoming Manhattan Puzzle). I haven’t read The Istanbul Puzzle, the first book, and I wouldn’t need to, to follow this book. But… but, there was a bit of the Empire Strikes Back about the Jerusalem Puzzle – leaving a little too much still to be told at the end. And, just as if you hadn’t seen Star Wars before The Empire Strikes Back, the Istanbul Puzzle-ignorant reader is left a tad unsatisfied with the overall experience.
But hey, I loved Return of the Jedi, so all is not lost with the Puzzle series!
So, on this journey that has included splenic musings on another author’s work via pop culture references to a sci-fi series of films, what conclusion have I drawn?
Read the Jerusalem Puzzle. Just read the Istanbul Puzzle first. (And if you’re the last person on earth who hasn’t, try not to read The Da Vinci Code.)