I thoroughly enjoyed Laurence O’Bryan’s debut historical thriller, The Istanbul Puzzle, but there were issues that stopped it from becoming brilliant. His sequel, The Jerusalem Puzzle promised to carry on the story, with increased action, increased tension and a revelation that would shock the religious community. I got stuck into this straight after finishing its predecessor, and I was left pleasantly surprised by the fast pace and addictive relationships within.
It may sound exceptionally unoriginal when I say it hides a secret that will shock the religious community, especially as over the past five years or so, we’ve been inundated with similar works of fiction that offers the same. However, I’ve got to admit that The Jerusalem Puzzle does so with ounces of authenticity and a respect for the religions of today. As it is mostly set inside Jerusalem, O’Bryan does a wonderful job at setting the religious and political scene; two religions, Christianity and Islam, living side by side amongst a backdrop of tension and suspicion. It must take a great insight and understanding to portray, and so it becomes so evident of the author’s insightful research.
Within the pages, we are reacquainted with Sean Ryan and his girlfriend, Isabel Sharp as they continue the quest to understand and unravel the mysterious manuscript they unearthed in the first book. Flamboyant archaeologist, Max Kaiser, is found burnt to death and so sets of a series of catastrophic and sinister events that draws the pair to the ancient city. Doctor Susan Hunter, who was working and translating on the manuscript, is missing and our protagonists are stuck for ideas. What they do know however, is that it is up to them to play detectives to discover the truth. And just maybe, they may find out more about this manuscript than they bargained for.
As O’Bryan did such a wonderful job at building up both Sean and Isabel’s character in the previous novel, we are drawn to them so naturally here. Sean is a great lead character as he knows enough knowledge to get him by, and has undergone a series of stressful past events to make him slightly unpredictable. He’s stared death in the face before, and so he isn’t afraid to stick his nose in to find out the truth. Isabel is also a great character. She’s not afraid to back her man up and never plays second best to Sean; they are almost equally important.
We also get to know more of the evil antagonist here too; Arap Anach is one malicious and possessed bad guy! It’s great to be able to get into his psyche here and see things from his point of view. This as a result helps makes him more rounded and well developed. Teamed up with a secretive English lord, we get to see that their plan is well thought out and wonderfully macabre too. It’s enticing and addictive reading, and you can’t help but read more to find out how far they are willing to go to create a war in Europe. It’s interesting, because what O’Bryan does here is create a fictitious scenario, but one based on today’s current state of affairs. The political and sociological stance on the ever increasing Islam religion is one that both believable yet daunting.
It’s hard to say exactly why without giving away plot arcs, but believe me when I say that the action is always regular and intense. There is a section towards the end of the book where Sean and friends are sat around a camp fire with some Palestinians. They are talking about their situation and what must be done next, when suddenly, when you least except it, O’Bryan writes an action packed surprise. It came out of nowhere! I couldn’t believe it, and I had no choice but to keep my bedroom lamp on reading further into the night.
When we do learn more about the manuscript and this religious secret, it serves as a catalyst to read the next book that follows. Whereas the likes of Dan Brown and Raymond Khoury reach a climax in their books, O’Bryan decides to tease you by carrying the puzzle on into subsequent books. It really is a true adventurous series, and you have to wonder what’s next for Sean and Isabel.
If you have read my review for The Istanbul Puzzle, you would remember that I found the short sentences and odd structure a little off-putting, but thankfully the writing is much more evolved here. Yes there are still short paragraphs, exceptionally so sometimes, but the writing is more flowing and deserving of the story they tell. The sights and smells of Jerusalem also bring this oddly misunderstood city to life too.
But again, there were times when I found the book a little disappointing. One stand out moment, was when a certain chapter starts, it is written in the present tense and suddenly, abruptly changes midway through to the past tense – and I can’t figure out why? I found this confusing and a little pointless. It almost seemed like it was a mistake rather than used for a specific reason. Another point I didn’t like, which I must confess first is more personal than anything else, is that one of the characters we are introduced to is Xena. It’s an infamous name, remembered to many for portraying a certain warrior princess. It’s hard to expel the image of Lucy Lawless when you are reading her. I would have also liked her to get involved in the action a bit more, but sadly I found her character to be quite weak.
It has to be said though that The Jerusalem Puzzle is a tense, action-fuelled roller-coaster ride, especially if you love these historical thrillers. Is has a believable plot, with terrorism and political war overlapping the long-lost manuscript search. The characters are as ordinary as you or I, which is a brilliant thing because it creates ounces of respect for them. You also want them to succeed too, caring what happens to them. You do need to read the first in the Puzzle series to get along better with this, but with supreme intrigue and a conspiratorial rapport hiding in the background, The Jerusalem Puzzle is a clever, well-structured and intimate novel. Now we just have to wait until its sequel, The Manhattan Puzzle, is released later in the year.
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