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We'll never find 'The Last Secret of the Ark'

The Last Secret of the Ark is a conspiracy/mystery by James Becker, where historian Angela Lewis, her cop ex-husband Chris Bronson, the CDF (new name for the Inquisition), and a Jewish fanatic group compete to track down the biblical Ark of the Covenant. It meets all the basic requirements of the genre, with enough travelling, history, violence, sarcasm, wits, and low-level sexual tension to keep the plot running.

The one thing this book has, to differentiate it from all others of its kind, is a smart, logical, ending (and no, jumping to the end does not help). It is the result of good links, not too outrageous, between clues, which allow for the dots to be solidly connected. And the fact it is focused on a pre-Christian relic does not hurt, either.

Sadly, on the other hand it has about 25 pages of background history presentations which add little, if anything, to the events. They seem to be padding an otherwise scant storyline, while slowing it down to almost a halt. Additionally, the text stumbles on small details, such as British-specific English expressions in the mouths of foreigners, or the dietary habits of the characters. These are not major issues, granted, but they seem a bit of a let-down, giving the impression of hurried editing, maybe no rewriting of the final draft, before submission to the print.

Who would enjoy this

The Last Secret of the Ark is a volume for those who enjoy the genre, as it is a near textbook example of it.

It bases itself enough in history for those who like reading about the havoc of the Middle Ages; Knights Templar for the lovers of conspiracies; a biblical relic, for those into the esoteric; armed enemies ‘on the hunt’ for readers of action; and it is self-aware enough to not try to be anything beyond.

Who should give this a pass

I would not recommend this book for anyone expecting something new or different from the genre. We have the usual suspects (religious fanatics) and the usual heroes (the gorgeous woman, the protective man); the usual mysterious sect (the Templars); the usual travelling all around following encrypted texts/clues.

Also, readers who like a lot of action may find The Last Secret of the Ark lacking. As I mentioned above, there are more pages dedicated to history lectures than to actual actions and events.

Conclusions and suggestions

The Last Secret of the Ark is an OK book, which could be so much better. On paper, it ticks all the boxes, plus the interesting twists of the relic and the ending. Finding it hard to get through, and stumbling across the inconsistencies, was a great disappointment considering the obvious amounts of research and plotting involved in it.

In fact, this is a great example of the need to edit, tighten, check, repeat. There are too many elements that appear unnecessary to the rest of the book.

To begin with, the editor and the author should have looked at this and applied secateurs to the Ethiopian chapter, as well as the long expositions on history. Even die-hard lovers of information, learning, history, as well as reading, will find themselves skipping over those pages after the 3rd instance. It is painfully clear, by that point, that there is no way the majority of all that information will be relevant, or reveal any useful clues, to the upcoming events. Background information is necessary, but within measure.

This paring down is most necessary for dialogues. In real-life interactions, most people interrupt each other, particularly if they already know about the subject (as is the case of the Templars, for example). Needless to say, dialogues usually also syncretise knowledge, leaving dates and long names behind in favour of general events and single names (e.g. talking about Napoleon, rather than repeat Napoleon Bonaparte at each instance, despite knowing there were others). Pages of droning on, with a ‘remind me what that was’ thrown in here and there, simply don’t work.

And finally, small details should always be checked. I mentioned earlier the inconsistencies in speech patterns, as well as dietary ones – mere, blatant examples. An American talking about ‘a mobile’, instead of a ‘cell’ or even a ‘cell phone’ is a red flag. So are fanatic religious Jews eating sandwiches from a vending machine in France, which would not be kosher and thus a basic breach of faith. Basic checks of characterisation can prevent such mistakes, which make all the text suspect, thus ruining the whole impact of the mystery.

In short, is The Last Secret of the Ark a good read? Sure, as can be expected of an experienced author. But it still could be much improved with simple attention to detail:

- Have a good checker edit your manuscript, ensuring that small mistakes are amended. Every little bit has an impact in the reading experience.

- Pace the action and dialogues so they are balanced along the narrative. This will keep the reader invested.

- A good action book is like a competing bodybuilder: heavy but trimmed to the extreme.

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