Follow Here To Purchase Shadow Ritual

Authors: Eric Giacometti and Jacques Revene, trans. Anne Trager,

Publisher: Le French Book

ISBN: 978-1-939474-30-8 (trade paperback)

ISBN: 978-1-939474-31-5 (hardback))

Mysteries and thrillers set in historical contexts represent one of my weak points. I’ve written a few that come close in their dependence on historical backstory (my character Castilblanco is a history dilettante) and have read many more. The startling success of Brown’s The DaVinci Code caused a resurgence in the sub-genre, but you can also compare this novel to older books like Deaver’s Garden of Beasts, Follett’s The Eye of the Needle, and Forsyth’s The Odessa File. That theme of old Nazis causing mayhem is one of the themes in this book.

The other is religion, Catholicism specifically (hence the reference to The DaVinci Code), and secret societies, in particular the Free Masons. I have some family connections to Masonry and have even reviewed a non-fiction book on the subject for Bookpleasures (Jay Kinney, The Masonic Myth). Like the books mentioned above, where the truth about Masonry ends and the fiction begins is part of the fun in these novels. The same can be said about the Nazi history (what the Nazis did was hardly fun, of course).

This novel combines mystery and thriller aspects. We know the dirty deeds and who’s doing them to whom (the “doing” is the thrill ride), but we don’t know why (the mystery). Inspector Antoine Marcas, a Paris cop who’s also a Free Mason, has been invited to the French embassy in Rome where another guest, a Free Mason woman who researches historical documents, is ritually murdered, but the papers she’s carrying are saved. The archeologist she’s supposed to meet in Jerusalem when she continues her journey is also ritually murdered and an ancient stone is stolen. Marek meets the embassy’s security chief, Special Agent Jade Zewinski, close friend of the murder victim and ex-Special Ops, but Jade has no love for Masons and their secret ways. The cop, reacting badly to the banshee, washes his hands of the case.

Back in Paris, where Zewinski has carried her friend home to be quietly buried because of the French government’s imposed secrecy, Marcas is forced to work with the shrew to solve the murderers. The reader gets a good taste of anti-Masonic fervor and a secret pre-Nazi and pro-Aryan supremacist society as the circumstances draw the two protagonists together in spite of their water-and-oil personality clashes. I wouldn’t exactly call this a budding romance and find it a bit of a distraction. It’s also anti-feminist, because Zewinski starts out as an independent force but morphs into the usual Hollywood sidekick for the male lead. (That might turn off a few female readers in the U.S.) There are no excuses—the action in the book is modern day, not historical. To be sure, there’s some breaking with grand Hollywood tradition as she refuses on one occasion to just become another victim the hero must save—she can kick butts.

There are a few more plotting flaws that won’t get in the way of most readers’ enjoyment. First, the woman who murdered Zewinski’s friend, a sociopathic yet efficient killer, has an incredible lapse of judgement that no serious female agent would ever make (there’s maybe a wee bit of anti-LGBT franco-fervor here as an attempt to explain the lapse?). Second, the secret council of that evil pre-Nazi society goes out of its way to use a remote chapel as a torture site to punish some erring council members; that might add some gory, dramatic moments in a Hollywood version, but the location in the boonies doesn’t make much logical sense. Third, why the old Waffen SS fellow, retired Obersturmbannfuehrer Francois Le Guermand (how those German titles trip off the tongue, even though the old guy is French), believes any of the mumbo-jumbo associated with Masonic myths seems surreal (the other younger council members seem to be less gullible, therefore more realistic).

Fourth, what happened to that stone stolen in Jerusalem? Not much. It seemed to be important enough at the beginning but becomes only part of a recipe for a witch’s brew that will satisfy the old fellow’s desires to go tripping along Odin’s glory road (spoiler alert: there’s a double meaning here). Fifth, the authors can’t resist connecting Free Masonry with the Knights Templar (completely debunked in the book mentioned above, but the connection is often made because conspiracy theorists love the idea)—as cynical as Marcas is about this, the authors “prove” him wrong, adding to that heady but unbelievable potpourri of secret societies and their hypothesized connections in this novel. Some of these flaws were Hollywood-like and remind me of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (derided by Jade Zewinski in the book, by the way).

Don’t get me wrong—although my critic’s eagle eye caught these minimal flaws, I’m OK with all the above. (Note: I read a preliminary ebook version, so maybe a few plotting flaws were fixed in editing?) There’s always a required suspension of disbelief in many of these novels; that’s why the Deaver, Follett, and Forsyth books remain so memorable for me. This book contains many entertaining thrills and chills, enough for any fan of the genre, but it might not be memorable. It’s a French variation on a standard thriller theme—very well done, for the most part.

What really turned me off, though, were the beginning and ending. The prolog, almost ten per cent of the book, is far too long. I’d start with the section titled “Southwest to Berlin” to achieve that proverbial hook all writers of genre fiction should master—all that precedes is dry history and could easily be handled in flashbacks if the authors insist on including all that material (in their defense, like Forsyth, they didn’t start out as fiction writers). The ending is also disappointing. To avoid spoilers, let me just say that Marcas is taken out of the tale at a critical juncture and the climax is related after the fact. It’s as if the authors, after creating such a breathless thriller that often made me wish for a seatbelt on my recliner, became exhausted and decided to close up shop early and go home.

While I don’t have the French original to compare to, I could only tell this was a translation in a few places, and didn’t mind those at all (even learning some new English words and reminded of other old friends). The translator does a great job and correctly maintains a minimalist style. The description of the characters follows the Goldilocks Principle well—just enough descriptive prose so that the reader can participate in the creative process by developing her/his own mental images of the protagonists and antagonists. Most historical references appear more authentic and believable than Dan Brown’s (a bit of 20/20 hindsight there, of course—Brown was duped about some of his materieal)—they couldn’t have been easy to research and even harder to translate…and I’m certain I couldn’t manage them in the original!

This book is definitely worth a read for fans of the genre and should do well in this country. It’s entertaining and ideal for that boring business trip or spring get-away where you need to enjoy a good adrenalin rush to pass the idle hours. Just don’t expect to read about any earth-shaking topics, or to learn deep, dark secrets about Free Masons. One of the authors has specialized in the latter topic in his reporting, but Nazism v. Free Masonry only provides a broadly brushed backdrop to the large stage where this entertaining tale about history and its effects on power struggles in our modern milieu takes place.