Where do I start?
I really wanted to like this book. Alas. I cannot. The only reason I finished it was so I could feel truly justified in writing a review.
First, the positives:
It is very scholarly, and full of information nerds like me can appreciate. I enjoyed the long explanations of various scientific processes used to authenticate archaeological finds. This kind of thing has always piqued my interest, and I enjoyed those sectors of the book, even though they felt drawn-out and slow.
The concept of the book: What if we unearthed Jesus’ bones? What an intriguing mystery that would be! Personally, I think this author should have loaned his scholarly expertise in research to a better writer. Frank Peretti, perhaps, could have wrangled this question with far more genuine intrigue, character development, and solid dialogue.
Now, the negatives (I should have taken notes as I was reading…):
1) Character development is severely lacking. Other than very good visual descriptions, there isn’t much to go on to help the reader decide who is likeable and who isn’t. Everyone speaks in the same voice, with the occasional foreign accent thrown in. I often found myself backing up a paragraph or two in order to identify who was speaking.
2) The female characters are shallow and insipid. In spite of supposedly being brilliant archaeologists, and experts in their respective fields, they do an awful lot of flirting, giggling, and teasing. The book never focuses on their intellectual or professional abilities, and zeroes in only on their ravishing beauty, their doe eyes, and their giggly school girl ways. I can’t take the girls in the book seriously, and that annoys the crap out of me. There was no strong, smart, femininity, just shallow hotties. I was supposed to like these women, but I couldn’t stand them.
3) The “romance” shoved into the story against its will. I suppose someone told Maier that every story needs a little romance. He should never have attempted it. (Frankly, I don’t think he should ever write a female character, either. Ever.) First of all, the main character lost his beloved pregnant wife in a tragic accident a year and a half before this story takes place. The author spends some time establishing that he is still reeling over her loss, and struggling. He even has a nightmare about it at one point.
A year and a half after such a loss is a pretty likely time for a man to be seeking companionship again, even in his pain. I could see a slow friendship blossoming over time, and turning into love near the end of the book as she becomes part of his healing process. Perhaps a meeting of their minds over the important work they’re doing, and a slow dawning of a loving attraction as they share adventures and mishaps together would not be out of place.
Apparently, all it takes is a pair of hot young legs and a bouncing ponytail to make him forget his dead wife in about five minutes. Literally, that’s all it took. It’s a cheesy, lust-at-first-sight dressed up as love plot line. His dead wife is almost never mentioned again in the entire book, except as an afterthought.
And their relationship? Utterly unbelievable, unremarkable, shallow, carnal, and stupid. No one talks like that to each other. No one. It reminded me of a twelve-year-old boy’s attempt at writing a love story. (No offense to 12-year-old boys, to be sure.) Several, supposedly romantic scenes are thrust randomly into the story line to remind us that they lust…I mean love…each other! They are merely corny and insulting to anyone with half a brain.
4) The dialogue was atrocious. So many italics! How will I ever express my true feelings without italics and exclamation points!? While the vocabulary was admirable, the conversations fell flat.
5) It was too long. I like a good, long, book. The key is, it has to be good. This story could have been told in half the number of pages, with probably more effect. I was hoping for an Indiana Jones-esque story, with plenty of mystery, adventure, near-death, and that ubiquitous crazy religious zealot element. There was none of that. Most of the book was just slowly plodding along, advancing the plot by inches that felt like miles.
6) The ending. Without offering spoilers, I have to say the ending was obvious. Once the bad guy is revealed, it was easy for me to call the shots. The mystery was gone. No surprise elements. No last stand. It was tied up rather too neatly. It wasn’t quite as lame an ending as Michael Crighton’s Sphere, but it was predictable and two-dimensional. There was just too much convenience in it.
The only reason I stuck it out until the end of this book was in the hopes that Meier might pull out all the stops, and give us an excellent unraveling of the mystery. I truly wanted to see how it would play out. I couldn’t quite let go of the hope that there could be a good story in all this, in spite of bad writing. I should have put it down halfway through. It was a waste of my time.