(Gary Lindberg, The Shekinah Legacy, 2011, ISBN 978-0-9848565-1-0, Kindle)
To define the genre of this book, think of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code. To determine whether you will be entertained by reading it, think better than Dan Brown’s thriller. All hype aside, this is the book that Mr. Brown should have written. Why? It is as an exciting alternative religious history filled with plenty of action and interesting plot twists. It is based on real research, at least as real as Mr. Brown’s, after all the discussion about how authentic his sources were. Moreover, where Mr. Brown only incurred the wrath of the Vatican, Mr. Lindberg might incur the wrath of all major religions (I hope not—people, this is just fiction!).
At risk of trivializing an intricate and exciting plot, a short summary is in order. Charlotte Ansari, Minnesota-based reporter for the Boston-based cable news channel CCN, returns home after almost being beheaded in Iraq by Muslim jihadists. She and her photojournalist companion were miraculously saved by a strange group of assassins. At home while she recovers, the relic collector across the lake is brutally murdered, two relics are stolen from his collection, and Charlotte and her son are targeted again—and saved again.
Charlotte’s son Greg receives coded e-mails from his grandmother, Charlotte’s mother. He has Asperger’s and that helps him figure out that his grandmother is asking them to save her. Mother and child travel to India to find Charlotte’s father, believing that he can help them in their quest, which includes searching for the two relics, but different groups seem to be hot on Charlotte’s trail. Or, are they after someone else? The intrigue, mixed with firefights between different contending groups, is maximized as good guys become bad guys and vice versa.
Pictures corresponding to some scenes in this book can be found on the author’s website. Don’t click just yet because I agree with the author—look at the website after you have read the book. It will give too much away if you look at the website first. Nevertheless, do look at it. In some sense, the pics are part of the documentation. You don’t need them for the reading, though, since the author’s prose provides adequate imagery and local color.
Now let me elaborate on the alternative religious history. First, many of the sources that Dan Brown used later turned out to be erroneous—he was the victim of at least one serious swindle. This leads to the point that neither one of these books is historical fiction. Alternative history is a popular genre—both past and future history—ranging from novels based on historical events filled in with fictional details to sci-fi tales like James P. Hogan’s The Proteus Operation. I haven’t checked Mr. Lindberg’s sources, but they aren’t that many, seem easily verifiable, and he doesn’t depend on them all that much to derive his entertaining potpourri of intrigue, religion, and ancient superstitions.
Second, Mr. Lindberg’s thesis, albeit fictional, is more meaningful than Mr. Brown’s, later shown to be more fictional than he thought it was. The latter was asked in an ABC News Special if his book would have been different if he had written it as non-fiction. Mr. Brown, in his typical hubristic manner, replied, “I don’t think it would have.” I’m not sure he ever retracted that statement. It makes no difference when reading his book, though. The DaVinci Code is an exciting tale with the Divine Feminine as its thesis; The Shekinah Legacy is a much more exciting tale that considers the Divine Human. Let me explain.
Mr. Brown’s thesis is that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene married and her descendants carry the blood of Christ; i.e., not only is Christ divine but so are all of Mary’s descendants, the Divine Feminine or Holy Grail. This is a rather freely interpreted version of the view in the Gnostic Gospels where Christ is purely divine and his human body is but an illusion. Mr. Lindberg’s thesis is just the opposite and agrees with other serious academic interpretations of the Gnostic Gospels, i.e. that Christ was a mere human, albeit divine, another prophet, just as He is considered in Islam.
What makes these books so interesting is not their fictional theses but the conspiracy surrounding the hiding of “the truth of the thesis” from modern worshipers. In Mr. Brown’s book, the conspirators are Opus Dei in particular and the Catholic Church in general, a simplistic extrapolation of the historical fact that holy men (emphasis on men) of the Church edited out the Gnostic Gospels from the standard New Testament and portrayed Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. In Mr. Lindberg’s book, things are much more complex, making his tale seem more historically real. We have a glorious mish-mash of Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists all vying for predominance and participating in the conspiracy.
This genre of alternative religious history has its non-fiction side. Besides old academic research on the Gnostic Gospels, I can recommend Gospel of Judas, edited by Rodolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer, and Gregor Wurst (National Geographic Society, 2006), and The Lost Gospel by Herbert Krosney (Krosney Productions, 2006), both dealing with the Gnostic Gospel of Judas Iscariot (the origin of Iscariot “is explained” by Mr. Lindberg, by the way) and how it was found. I find the non-fiction almost as entertaining as the fiction!
In the seventh grade, I wanted to become an anthropologist/archaeologist—this was long before Indiana Jones. I checked out all the relevant books in my public library, read them, and decided that studying human beings and their cultural idiosyncrasies was too difficult. I became a mathematician first, then a physicist—they seemed easier professions, especially for making a living! Perhaps I should have looked for Gnostic Gospels instead?
I suppose it’s debatable whether Mr. Lindberg could have written his book without Mr. Brown’s novel blazing the path. Let’s face it: Whatever the positives and negatives of each book, they are both good reads. Consequently, the hypothetical debate is a moot point. I wouldn’t have told Cormac McCarthy that he couldn’t write The Road because John Christopher or C. M. Kornbluth or, more recently, P.D. James, had already written great dystopian sci-fi in No Blade of Grass, Not This August, and The Children of Men, respectively. Many tales are similar—the devil is in the details. All four of these books influenced my own Survivors of the Chaos, for example, but I believe my novel still has a fresh perspective. In literature, almost everything has been done before—it’s how you do it when it’s your turn that counts.
As usual, there are a few nits to pick. In software development, there’s always another bug; in writing a novel, there’s always another edit. More importantly to me are some stylistic choices. “Charlotte looks at her son quizzically. Where did that come from?” The use of the adverb is a wee bit too common as adverbs and adjectives are overused, but that’s one writer’s style, mine, versus another’s, Mr. Lindberg’s. Also, a few chapters are subtitled “From Charlotte Ansari’s Notebook.” I know why the author does this, but modern writing conventions have eliminated the taboo of mixing first and third persons. One stylistic point I do like: The author uses present tense to give a sensation of immediacy to the prose. With the intrigue and gun battles, it adds to the tension.
I recommend this book to all who like a good thriller, especially if you like this genre. I can’t imagine what Mr. Lindberg will do for an encore, but he has a two-volume historical fiction that he will release this year.