It’s so nice to see a new book from Juan Gomez-Jurado. His debut novel, GOD’S SPY, was a favorite of mine, introducing Father Anthony Fowler, a man of God and war. Fowler, who is a liaison between the American CIA and the Vatican’s Secret Service, is a cross between G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown and Ian Fleming’s James Bond, an interesting character who frequently finds himself asking his Boss (and I am not referring to either the Pope or the President) for forgiveness since permission would not be forthcoming.
THE MOSES EXPEDITION, like GOD’S SPY, is ambitious, featuring a story that cuts across time and nations, from World War II to the (near) present, from the teeming streets of New York to a desolate area of Jordan. The very capable Father Fowler is back, and while he does not get the face time he received in the previous novel, he certainly influences events, particularly at the beginning and end of the book. Reporter Andrea Otero is back in all of her acerbic glory as well, and while her presence seems just a bit contrived, it really is not as events soon make clear. Taking place approximately 16 months after the conclusion of GOD’S SPY, THE MOSES EXPEDITION kicks off with Fowler retrieving an artifact that had fallen into wrong and evil hands but, when combined with a second piece of antiquity, reveals the location of the Ark of the Covenant, the legendary receptacle of the stone tablets bearing the Ten Commandments.
An expedition to a remote and dangerous area of Jordan is launched to retrieve the Ark, sponsored by a reclusive billionaire and guided by a nasty archaeologist, with Fowler along for the ride ostensibly in his role as a representative of the Vatican’s secret service. Otero is there as well, supposedly to report on what occurs but for a far more nefarious purpose of which even she is unaware. As the reader soon learns, however, the expedition is not only watched but anticipated every step of the way by a group of Islamic terrorists. Worse, one of their members has infiltrated the expedition with the idea of making certain that the Ark, if discovered, will never see the light of day, at least in the possession of the rightful owners.
There is much to love here. My own favorite, after the imaginative story, would be the illustrations --- yes, illustrations --- which, while not necessary (Gomez-Jurado is wonderful at describing things), add a nice touch to the narrative. The author has quite a way with fine details, inserting them where necessary and going for more general descriptions when the flow of the story demands such. My favorite passage in the book, believe it or not, concerns the making and drinking of coffee at a pivotal meeting. I actually read it over a couple of times just for appreciation’s sake. Even if you do not agree with all of the conclusions reached here, or with Fowler’s motivations (I certainly didn’t), Gomez-Jurado’s attention to detail and his presentation of same is exquisite, worth the price of admission to the proceedings all by itself.
If there is a disappointment, it’s that Fowler is not featured more prominently throughout the novel. I occasionally found myself wishing ahead of the narrative, if you will, for his next appearance. Fowler does bookend the work with his presence and influence, initiating the action that starts things rolling and bringing it to a dark and fateful conclusion. He does this, by the way, while taking some lumps. There is a scene near the end of the book involving Fowler in dire peril, in which…well, I won’t tell you, other than to say it’s no picnic. And you’ll learn what a simoom is as well. It’s not exactly a day at the beach.
If you like THE MOSES EXPEDITION, Gomez-Jurado has more coming. His third novel has been out for a while in Europe, and a fourth is being written even as I write this. Hopefully we will get both volumes sooner rather than later. As Mae West said, too much of a good thing is wonderful.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 3, 2010