“The Pandora Room” by Christopher Golden

(On a personal note, my husband is weak as a kitten but home.  Once again, thanks for all the support.)

Genre:         Mystery & ThrillersThe Pandora room
Publisher:    St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date:   April 23, 2019

This is the author’s second novel with his protagonist, Ben Walker.  Think James Bond, only more realistic. This hero actually feels chronic pain from injuries incurred during his fights with bad guys. The reader first meets the character in Golden’s 2017 novel, “Ararat.”  He joins an archaeological expedition, digging deep within a mountain located in Turkey.  They were looking to find Noah’s ark (and stumbles instead on to the devil).  In “Pandora,” he joins another expedition. Once again, Walker becomes part of the team as a member of the National Science Foundation.  In reality, he works for the US government—spy lies. Nothing new about books with spies and forces beyond scientific understanding, but Golden does it very well, reminiscent to “The Age of Exodus,” by Gavin Scott. In “Pandora,” the archaeological team learns that the infamous titular box is real and buried in an ancient subterranean city located in Northern Iraq.  Golden is a master at creating a claustrophobic atmosphere filled with evil, both real and hallucinatory.  The infamous titular box, which is a jar in this novel, is filled with ancient diseases that once opened turns into a plague.  Do not be surprised if you begin to feel a sore throat.

Enhancing the tale, “Pandora” has an element of current affairs to it.  It seems that both governments, the US and the Iraqis, want the jar in their hands to be used as a weapon.  Now that is a thought that is truly terrifying and probably not all that farfetched.  In this sequel, Walker is fighting demon ghosts underground and soldiers above ground:  A very nice touch.  “Pandora” does not quite have the same finesse as “Exodus.”  Scott simply never misses a beat.  Golden spends a good deal of time explaining why the team is actually experiencing two different types of disease: skimming material.  Still, Ben Walker#2 is a very good supernatural fantasy.  The similarities in both Walker tales are obvious, but as long as you go in knowing this, you will not be disappointed.  If you didn’t read the first tale, this can easily be a standalone novel.   “Pandora” is written razor-sharp to scare the bejesus out of the reader.  Your adrenaline should rise with each chapter.  The secret to Golden’s success seems to be that he writes about supernatural thrills with just the right amount of religious references to make it all feel grounded in something familiar.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“The Age of Exodus” by Gavin Scott

Genre:            Historical Murder Mystery Age of Exodus
Publisher:    Random House
Pub. Date:   Sept. 28, 2018

A murder-thriller nestled in historical fiction, The Age of Exodus reads like a blend of James Bond, Mickey Spillane, and Indiana Jones. This reviewer is pleased to report that the result is an addictive reading experience. Exodus brims with compelling research without sacrificing the breakneck speed at which it unfolds. The author, Gavin Scott, juggles archaeological artifacts, demon gods of Mesopotamia, and British espionage. Scott rarely misses a beat.

The year is 1947. The story begins in England and then shifts to America via the legendary British luxury liner, the Queen Mary. A General Assembly Meeting of the United Nations is its destination.  Aboard is our protagonist, the charming archeologist and Oxford lecturer named Duncan Forrester. This is the third book in Scott’s Duncan Forrester Mystery Series, but one needn’t read the first two novels to follow along. The author smoothly informs us that Forrester was a trained British special operations agent in the war, just what the UN needs.

Scott builds tension skillfully. You will witness a trail of grisly murders that echo ancient rituals. You will meet the real-life Aleister Crowley, an English occultist, who founded his own religion in the dark arts.  Remember, the book and movie The Exorcist?  Yes, this novel has sections that can get that terrifying.   You will also meet other real-life persons that played a part in history, such as Ernest Bevin and Arthur Koestler.  Bevin was a British unionist and statesman whose help was instrumental in winning the war.  As Foreign Secretary in 1947, he announced that the “Palestinian problem” will no longer be a British issue because Britain was handing it over to the United Nations.  As in the tale, his announcement caused quite the uproar inside the UN.  Arthur Koestler was a Hungarian journalist who achieved fame during this time period as the author of the anti-Communist novel, Darkness at Noon.   Interestingly, his books had been burned by both the Nazis and the Communists.

There is not an excess of Forrester’s love life in the plot, but enough to please. After all, where would Indiana Jones be without a beautiful woman by his side?  The reader will discover that tough guy Forrester is not so tough at all.  The woman who has caught his eye and has romantic feelings towards him is the younger sister of his deceased girlfriend, making him shy around her. Unlike so many romantic subplots, Forrester’s plight endears him to the reader.

Be prepared to learn of the intricate history between the Jewish Zionists and Palestinian Arabs who fought over the creation of a Jewish nation for Holocaust survivors.  Our hero has a role on the non-fictional historical steamer, the SS President Warfield.   Once in French waters, the ship donned a banner renaming the vessel, Exodus 1947.  The fictional commander tries to kill our hero because he is unaware that the British man, Forrester, is actually trying to help him.  Sadly, in the story, as well as in the history books, the Exodus 1947 did not succeed.  On July 11, 1947, the ship was boarded by the British in international waters.  The Jews trying to immigrate to Israel were taken to Haifa where ships were waiting to return them to refugee camps in Europe. “But by this time the ship was big news around the world, and the pitiful sight of the frightened children and former concentration camp victims…undermined everything Ernest Bevin had been claiming about the justice of his policy on the Jewish Homeland.”  Ernest Bevin was a man Forrester had once greatly admired, but not after this tragedy. Such moments are effective at raising the emotional stakes.

After getting lost in such a gripping moment in history, the reader may feel a tad disappointed when the story returns to another demon murder.  However, later events will reignite the story’s historical charge. The ending makes one hopeful that there will be a number four in the series to pick up where number three left off.  There is such creative finesse in Scott’s presentation of history that you can easily forget you’ve returned to the classroom. But a word of caution to the reader: although this book is a murder-mystery page-turner, read slowly. With so many real and fictional characters, it can get confusing if you are tempted to fly right through the novel in one sitting.  Still, if you do, the story is so enjoyable you will probably just reread it again for any clarifications that you might have missed, and you’re likely to take delight in it, even more, the second time around.

Open the link https://amzn.to/2qfPY1m to purchase “The Age of Exodus.”

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the author at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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