Newly acquired pages from John Wilkes Booth’s diary prove deadly to the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution as he excitedly examines them late one night. The secretary is found dead in his office, but the mysterious pages have disappeared. Many groups and individuals would do anything to acquire the famous lost pages, but it is a beautiful sculptor who becomes the prime suspect. Vehemently claiming her innocence, Vinnie Archmont brings her case to J.D. Blackstone, noted law professor and one of Washington D.C.’s “most brilliant, yet enigmatic lawyers.”
Examination of the crime scene photos leads Blackstone to focus on one particularly interesting item: a blank notebook. He assumes the victim’s last act was to write something significant on that notebook --- something that was stolen by the murderous thief. Blackstone’s theory proves correct after a forensic examiner reconstructs the impressions left on the remaining pages. A one-sentence note, followed by four lines of a cryptic, coded poem copied from the diary, could be the key to finding the murderer.
“A strange ciper appears in the Booth diary as follows:
To AP and KGC
Rose of 6 is Sir al ik’s golden tree
In gospel Mary first revealed
At Ashli plot reveals the key.”
The puzzling, enigmatic words send Blackstone to people and places he never anticipated in an effort to clear Archmont’s name and uncover the most guarded secret of the Mystic Freemasons, a clandestine group that claims to be the oldest secular fraternal order. Blackstone travels to England to meet Lord Dee, a high-ranking Freemason, billionaire, religious philosopher and Vinnie’s close friend. It is on his return flight, while conducting research, that Blackstone concludes that the murder case has undisputed religious elements: 1) Religious symbolism in the poem; 2) Lord Dee’s “otherworldly interest” in the Booth diary because of its possible link to the “ultimate secret” of the Freemasons; and 3) The possible involvement of the Freemasons in the murder.
After drawing these conclusions, Blackstone finds a photo of Albert Pike, a lawyer and high-ranking Freemason who became a Confederate soldier and was charged with treason. The following page contains a photo of his girlfriend, a beautiful sculptor named Vinnie Ream. He is jarred by the fact that Pike’s and Ream’s pictures strongly resemble Lord Dee, with whom he had just visited, and Archmont.
Shortly after his return, a mysterious phone call leads Blackstone to a construction site, where he is nearly killed in what was clearly a setup. Another attempt is made on Blackstone’s life as he is out riding his horse. Despite the danger, he pursues the case and enlists the help of his uncle, the Rev. John Lamb, with whom he often debates various Christian topics. With his uncle’s help, Blackstone discovers that the Freemasons are connected with Gnosticism. His uncle explains that the Gnostics attempted to disprove the Gospel, but the historical truth won out in the end. Blackstone, who believes the Bible is primarily fiction, is surprised to learn the extent of the documented evidence and verifiable proof of Jesus’ life, teachings, death and resurrection.
Blackstone continues to believe his client’s innocence, despite her motive and opportunity, and learns more about Christianity as the plot thickens and more about the Gnostics, Christianity, the Freemasons and Booth comes to light. By mid-book, Blackstone and the reader are both contemplating a variety of questions:
Could Booth have been carrying a message to Albert Pike and the Knights of the Golden Circle, which would explain the initials in the first line of the poem?
Are the Freemasons involved? Lord Dee? His client?
And above all else, could there be value and life-changing truth to the Gospel of Christ?
THE ROSE CONSPIRACY offers an intriguing plot, but strives to educate more than most readers want to be when reading for entertainment. Explanations of legal procedures, history, Christianity and Gnosticism are heavily intertwined with the story. I commend Craig Parshall for his extensive research and complex storyline, but feel he should have cut to the chase a little sooner, and with fewer tutorials.
Reviewed by Susan Miura on January 15, 2009