Crusader Gold, published in 2006, is the second book I have read by David Gibbins. I’m ambivalent about his writing, because although he comes up with exciting plots and settings, his characters are two-dimensional.
In this underwater archaeologist’s wish-fulfillment fantasy, intrepid diver and scientist Jack Howard sets off with his companions in search of the menorah from the temple in Jerusalem, a giant, golden, seven-branched candelabrum looted and taken to Rome by Vespasian after his conquest of Judea. Yes, there undoubtedly was such an object among the treasures of the temple, and carvings on the Arch of Titus clearly depict it being paraded through Rome in triumph. As to what finally became of it, the trail soon peters out. It could have been among the treasures that eventually found their way to Constantinople, but there is not even a hint of its survival past that point. Considering that it was very heavy, awkwardly shaped, and solid gold, it’s hard to believe that it was lugged around even long enough to reach Byzantium. It seems much more likely that it was melted down sooner, rather than later.
Gibbins intertwines the hypothetical wanderings of the menorah with some really interesting and for me, entirely new history of the Vikings, and specifically the career of Harald Hardrada, a Norwegian king who in his youth served among the Viking bodyguards of the Byzantine emperor in the Eleventh Century. In Gibbins’ plot, the Vikings make off with the menorah and take it with them to Mexico. I was dreading an ending in which Jack Howard discovers the menorah in the Yucatan, but thankfully Gibbins stops short of that.
Gibbins deserves a vote of thanks for separating fact from fiction and explaining at the end of the book which parts of the plot are factual. I wouldn’t have read it otherwise, since I try to avoid books that willfully distort actual historical personages and events. So my only complaint is that his book gives the impression of a thriller written by a wonk.