One advantage to working in a bookstore or library is that it’s much easier to expand your taste in literature, being exposed to genres you otherwise wouldn’t seek out. Sometimes when you pick up an author on a lark, your curiosity rewards you.
That didn’t happen this time.
Gold of Kings is a new adventure novel by Davis Bunn that is much in the vein of Joel Rosenberg’s Last Jihad series, which could sit comfortably on either the Christian fiction or general fiction shelf of your local bookstore.
The eponymous gold is from Jerusalem’s Second Temple, which housed a trove that is thought to have been spirited away when the Romans sacked Jerusalem in the first century AD. The missing treasures are itemized on the legendary Copper Scroll, and the bulk of them have yet to be discovered.
For aging art dealer Sean Syrrell, the Second Temple treasures would have been the find of his lifetime, but he is murdered as he is beginning to put together their location. Before his murder, he’d prepared to pass the baton to his granddaughter, Storm Syrrell. (sigh) Storm, like most intelligent, attractive, wealthy 25-year-old women, has absolutely no friends. Fortunately, she finds a willing bodyguard in Harry Bennett, treasure hunter, whom her late grandfather had sprung from prison. Danger is not only his middle name, but also his mySpace name, mother’s maiden name, and the name he has his friends enter for him when he goes bowling. Throw in Emma Webb, your typical female chip-on-her-shoulder federal agent, and you have a trio to hop the globe from Palm Beach to France to Turkey to Cyprus in search of the riches. Trailing their every move is Sean’s assassin, who is employed by forces who want to keep that treasure hidden.
If you’re not familiar with the Copper Scroll, Emperor Titus, the Second Temple, or even a menorah, don’t worry: you will have the history fully reiterated to you nearly half a dozen times. You get paragraphs of research that take on a Wikipedian tone no matter which character is speaking them.
Not that you should pay close attention to the history, though: it’s hard to trust a novelist’s research when he has his crusades scholar say, “when Richard the Lionhearted conquered Jerusalem.”
For readers who like Dan Brown, James Rollins, or Clive Cussler, the shaky history, token characters, and gee-whiz coincidences shouldn’t be big issues. These novels live and die based on how fun they are, and Gold of Kings had little to distract me from its shortcomings.
Bunn’s strength, though, is in his descriptions, which often take on a musical quality when read aloud: “As the sun gentled into the sea, clouds gathered like skyborne sheep, clustering about the cliffs overhead.” His prose, with its compact phrases that pack in sensory detail, also lends itself to the exotic locales : “Their hotel gleamed on the retreating shore, a tiny teacup of a palace built by an eighteenth century emir.”
Mr. Bunn doesn’t do so hot with dialogue, however. Here’s a conversation between Storm and her aunt with all descriptive prose removed:
‘Joe is my brother, Storm. I know what he’s like… Where is he?’
‘In his studio.’
‘Where is that, Storm?’
‘Last door on your left.’
‘Joe’s choices are your future only if you make them so… I don’t suppose I need to ask if he’s like this often.’
‘Almost every day.’
‘What about you, Storm? Do you get high?’
You get the sense that, by using Storm’s name so frequently, her aunt is trying to sell her some insurance. Less confident writers often fling character names all over the dialogue because they don’t think we’ll know who’s speaking otherwise. But this passage actually includes speaker tags (e.g.”Claudia asked” ), so either Bunn does this as a writing tic or he simply lacks an ear for dialogue. The rest of the book presents a strong case for the latter.
Also, down a shot of gin every time you hit the phrase, “They were pros,” and you’ll have yourself a life-threatening drinking game.
The Christian influence in Gold of Kings is alive and well, but it’s by no means an alienating brand of religiousness that would prevent nonbelievers from enjoying the novel. Other aspects of the book seem to do that job quite adequately.