The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury (Orion, 2005)

It has served us well, this myth of Christ. -- Pope Leo, 16th century

A sure sign of a lunatic is that sooner or later he brings up the Templars. -- Umberto Eco

A last stand by the Knights Templar in the Holy Land against the hordes of invading Saracens. Two brave Templar knights are ordered by the dying Grand Master to set sail with a precious cargo, never to be seen again.

Switch to the modern-day, four horsemen (conjuring up images of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse or the Four Horseman in Lord of the Rings) emerge from Central Park in New York and head towards the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where there is an exhibition of priceless relics and artifacts on loan from the Vatican. They enter the Met, not before a security guard who stands in their way has his head lopped off with a broadsword. Chaos ensures in the Met as the four Templar Knights help themselves to their swag, at least three of them do, the fourth is only interested in a Medieval encryption device.

The hunt is then joined. Our heroes, an FBI special agent Sean Reilly and an archaeologist Tess Chaykin, try to put together what is actually going on, why the involvement of the Knights Templar, why the interest in the medieval encoding machine?

But they are not the only ones engaged in the hunt. So too are sinister forces in the Vatican, who want to keep their secrets secret.

It all sounds terribly familiar. Yes, yet another me-too Da Vinci Code. Maybe Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, co-authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, will sue for plagiarism!

The discussion of the history of the Knights Templar, the context in which it takes place, could have been lifted straight out of The Da Vinci Code.

Exactly the same could be said of the discussion of the early Church, although Raymond Khoury gets some of his basic facts wrong.

Would this badly written novel have even got onto the booksellers' shelves were it not for the Da Vinci Code bandwagon?

Not even the inclusion of the Knights Templar, Holy Grail, the Catholic Church and the Vatican can disguise the fact that this is a badly-written, run-of-the-mill detective novel.

At least those were my initial thoughts from the first few pages, a rather bad detective novel. But as the novel progresses, one becomes hooked, on what becomes a page-turning thriller. The more I read, the more hooked I became, and was glad I had not discarded the novel after the first few pages, as I was sorely tempted to do.

The Last Templar grows from a badly written, third rate detective novel to a first rate thriller.

The Last Templar passes muster as an above average thriller, and asides on the Knights Templar, the Cathars and the early Church, make for interesting distractions, but it does not compare with either The Da Vinci Code or Angels and Demons by Dan Brown or Labyrinth by Kate Mosse.

The Last Templar draws on the same material as The Da Vinci Code, but it would be unfair to call it a me-too novel.

Raymond Khoury gives much pause for thought, at least for those with an open mind. Not a novel for religious bigots, especially Christian fundamentalists.

It is easy to see why the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in his Easter Address attacked conspiracy theories and The Da Vinci Code. The Last Templar will have to be added to his list.

These works of fiction are drawing to the attention of a wider audience what no dusty academic tome could possibly achieve, that there were more early Gospels, than survived into The New Testament, that the decision on what did, was the work of Man not God, that those who today call themselves Christians are followers of a Church, a Church that took great pains to eliminate alternative views, not followers of Christ.

Like the illustrated edition of The Da Vinci Code, The Last Templar cries out for an illustrated edition. No doubt the publisher will be happy to oblige to keep the money making mills churning.

Synchronicity: On the day I picked up The Last Templar, I looked in on a friend. The topic of conversation introduced by my friend, was the fall of the fort at Jacob's Ford to the Saracens, a fort held by Christians in the Holy Land loyal to King Baldwin IV. Talking of the Crusades, I mentioned the Crusade against the Cathars in Langedoc, in particular the slaughter at Béziers, and the comment of the Abbot, when asked how to distinguish true believers from heretics, he chillingly replied 'Kill them all, God will know his own.' Reading The Last Templar the following day, I found a similar discussion, including the very same quote. My friend and I had sometime before been discussing with Turkish property developers, a development in Turkey. Our heroes fly out to Turkey to continue their search in the same part of Turkey.

Books Worth Reading ~ The Da Vinci Code ~ Labyrinth
(c) Keith Parkins 2006 -- April 2006 rev 0