British journalist Will Monroe has landed a plum job at the New
York Times, but he has to prove himself before anyone on the
staff will take a rookie like him seriously. Then his human
interest story on the murder of a kindhearted pimp in Brooklyn
lands on the front page, and he becomes the paper's new rising
star. Temporarily reassigned from metro to the more prestigious
national desk, Will uncovers yet another murdered-lowlife-with-a
good-heart story while on assignment in Seattle. This time, the
victim is a survivalist who was once a suspect in the Ted
Kaczynski-Unabomber case. Once again, big splash at the paper. But
now, Will has a big problem: someone has inexplicably kidnapped his
wife Beth, a child psychiatrist, and it's all his fault.
His only clues lead him to the Hasidic Jewish community of Crown
Heights in Brooklyn, where things go downhill in a big way.
Blindfolded, abducted and manhandled, Will discovers the underbelly
of an ultra-orthodox sect that worships a long-dead rabbi. He is
released and eventually turns to two friends for help: Tom, a
computer techie, and TC, Will's ex-girlfriend, who has a brilliant
mind and an uncanny ability to solve all manner of enigmas and
codes and other assorted puzzlements. Beth's abduction, he learns,
is somehow tied to an ancient prophecy that has survived thousands
of years, one based on the biblical story of God's destruction of
Sodom when not a single righteous man could be found in the city.
According to the prophecy, at any given time, there are 36
designated righteous men on earth known only to God; their heinous
public lives provide the perfect foil for the good deeds they do in
secret. The prophecy warns that if they should all die within a
given time frame, God will destroy the world.
Will, of course, has unknowingly uncovered the identities of two of
those men, both of whom were described as "righteous" in his
interviews with benefactors of the men's goodness. Two down and 34
to go, it would seem, except that all around the world other
unscrupulous "righteous men" have been murdered without making a
blip on the radar screen of anyone who might link the crimes
together --- until a murder halfway around the world points Will in
the right direction. The clock is ticking, and he needs to find the
last few righteous men in order to prevent their deaths and thus
save the world.
Let's pause for a minute or two and catch our collective breath. If
the thought of the fate of the world resting in the hands of an
NYT reporter gives you the willies, you're not alone. But if
you can get past that and look at the prophecy itself, it's a
pretty cool premise for a novel. What's more, the Hasidic angle
makes for a far more interesting read than all those other
religious thrillers that rely on crazed Christian conspiracy
theories to spice things up. Not that there aren't any crazed
Christian conspirators in THE RIGHTEOUS MEN; let's just say that
the Hasidim steal the show.
Some readers may be put off by such things as the abundance of
riddles Will receives on his BlackBerry, the correlation between
the ancient prophecy and GPS coordinates, a twist involving Will's
father (I won't risk spoiling the ending by elaborating on that),
and the frequent use of the word "reckon" in the dialogue of
American characters. It's a legitimate word for Brits to use, but
Americans sound like caterwaulin' critters in an Arkansas holler
when they use it.
For my part, I fully enjoyed the story itself. Sam Bourne is the
pen name of British journalist and broadcaster Jonathan Freedland,
and his experience as a reporter lends a great deal of credibility
to Will's character, thinking and actions. THE RIGHTEOUS MEN ends
up as an entertaining read, a religious thriller with an unusual
concept --- a refreshing departure from the norm in this post-DA
VINCI CODE age.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford. You may contact Marcia by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or through her website (www.marciaford.com). on January 23, 2011