I enjoyed James Becker’s “The Moses Stone”. It’s a thriller with fascinating historical/archeological background material and plenty of action. Also, something that’s critically important to me, he strove for historical accuracy. I hate it when a fiction writer plays fast and loose with facts in order to make his life easier. Once I spot an obvious untruth I start wondering how much more of the supposed factual background material in a book is a complete fabrication designed to save the writer the trouble of exercising his imagination a bit more. At that point I stop reading to avoid a mental muddle of what I actually know about a subject.
I also appreciated that Becker was willing to depart from the party line concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls. The neat story told to visitors to the caves at Qumran overlooking the Dead Sea, where the scrolls were found, is that the nearby ancient ruins once housed a monastic Jewish sect called the Essenes, who wrote the scrolls. This theory is also presented as fact at the Israel Museum gallery where some of the scrolls are exhibited. The basis for this staunchly defended theory? There is mention of such a sect at the time, and one of the rooms of the ruin apparently contained a table, at which a scribe, if there was one, could have sat and copied a scroll, if he had one.
This hardly seems strong enough evidence to warrant defending the theory tooth and nail in spite of evidence pointing in other directions. For instance, a small cemetery associated with the site contains the bodies of women and children in addition to men. Also, although the first scrolls to be deciphered described the practices and beliefs of an Essene-like sect, many more scrolls that came to light covered a very wide range of material and historical periods. This suggested to some that the caves were a place where scholars and religious leaders from Jerusalem, which is not far away, stashed their libraries to keep them safe during times of war and destruction.
Accuracy is great, but not necessarily easy. I’m not talking about doing research and verifying facts. The internet makes that easier every year. The problem is how to convey a lot of factual material in the pages of a thriller. Becker simply turned one of his characters into a walking encyclopedia. The love interest of the British detective who is the hero of the story is a pottery expert from the British museum. She must be beautiful, because I can’t believe that he loves her for her conversation, which resembles a series of excerpts from Wikipedia.
And a word about the frenetic action; Almost every time the detective and his girl step outside, whether in Morocco, England, or Israel, they are chased by one or another group of sadistic criminals with guns. It got quite repetitive.
p.s.: The Kindle version of the fourth Alex Kertész mystery, Death of a Gypsy, will be free on Amazon from Thursday, September 1st, through Monday, September 5th.