Eric Van Lustbader has been writing for almost half of my life. You
will find THE TESTAMENT, his new novel, on my younger son's
nightstand. Ironically, my son is the same age I was when I read
Lustbader's first novel, THE SUNSET WARRIOR. Like its predecessors,
THE TESTAMENT is a wonderful way to begin a literary
Lustbader writes what are called --- occasionally derisively and
almost always inaccurately --- "hairy-chested novels." True, they
feature strong male protagonists (and, to keep things interesting,
even stronger, more dangerous villains) and women with attributes
that certainly lend themselves to being noticed. And while
Lustbader's novels are undoubtedly plot-driven, it's simplistic to
conclude that they are written at the expense of
THE TESTAMENT, among its many other attributes, balances plot and
personality quite nicely. Braverman "Bravo" Shaw is the protagonist
who carries the tale. We care about him, almost from the very
beginning of the book, when his father, Dexter, is killed
practically in front of him. What we come to learn along with Bravo
is that his dad had been leading a double life --- one as husband
and father and the other as a high-ranking member of a sect known
as the Order of Gnostic Observatines, founded by followers of St.
Francis of Assisi and driven underground centuries ago. The purpose
of the Order is the preservation of ancient documents containing
revelations that could rock and destroy Christianity if they were
to see the light of day.
The Order also preserves a substance referred to as "The
Quintessence," believed to be responsible for the resurrection of
Jesus Christ. Dexter, the keeper of the Order's cache, hid it where
only Dexter could find it. Bravo became Dexter's successor upon his
death and is charged with finding and protecting the cache.
Opposing him are the Knights of St. Clement, who have been locked
for centuries in a struggle against the Order and who seek The
Quintessence for the Pope, who lays near death. Jenny Logan, a
guardian of the Order, is assigned to protect Bravo, even as she
harbors a secret from him that could rend their mutual attraction
to each other asunder. Meanwhile, as he begins his race against
time and the Knights, Bravo finds out that literally everything he
knew about his father and his friends is wrong --- a knowledge that
puts his life in terrible danger.
Lustbader is incapable of writing a dull word, and indeed THE
TESTAMENT reads as if the man was hooked up to a defibrillator
stuck on "high" from the first page to the last. Bravo's journey to
the cache is so fraught with peril that the ultimate denouement
almost seems as if it will be reduced to an afterthought. It isn't.
The ending is every bit as good as everything that has gone before
--- and that's saying something.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011