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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The Book of Light by Michelle Blake. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2003. ISBN: 0-399-15046-3

I don't usually read books that have "A so an so mystery" printed on the cover, unless the author is someone I've already decided is a favorite of mine, like Tony Hillerman or Laurie King. This one has the appellation: "A Lily Connor Mystery," and until I picked it up off the shelf of new books at my local library, I had never heard of Lily Connor or Michelle Blake. I took a look at it because the title and cover suggested it had a religious angle, and when I read the flap blurb, and realized it had to do with finding a copy of Q, then I decided I should read it, if for no other reason than that it fit into my current round of books on themes similar to that of The Da Vinci Code.

So what is Q? A hypothetical document that may be one of the sources for the gospels of Mathew and Luke. If you've ever studied the Gospels in any kind of academic setting, then you undoubtedly know that Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the "Synoptic" gospels, because they share so many of the same stories between them. It is assumed by many scholars that Mathew and Luke took much of their material from Mark, the shortest and presumably the oldest of the three. But there is also quite a bit of material that Mathew and Luke share in common between them, which is not found in Mark. And each of them has some material that is unique and not found in any of the other gospels. But for the material in common between Mathew and Luke, not found in Mark, another earlier source, now lost, is presumed. Scholars call it Q, which is short for Quelle, which is German for "source."

In this story, a Biblical scholar begins to receive mailed photocopies of pages of what seem to be an ancient document which appears as though it could be from Q, long thought to be lost in the mists of time. What makes these documents especially interesting is that they contain at least one phrase that differs in significant ways from the version that is found in the other gospel accounts. The book gets much of its conflict and suspense from the fact that eventually a group of powerful and apparently desperate men begin an attempt to recover the pages, resorting to violence when necessary to achieve their desired ends.

Our primary protagonist is, of course, the Lily Connor mentioned on the cover, an Episcopal priest of the more liberal (theologically, at least) persuasion, who apparently is the subject of two previous mysteries by the author, The Tentmaker (1999) and Earth Has No Sorrow (2001).

One of the requirements of this type of story is that the author has to come up with a convincing way of eliminating the manuscript or making it inaccessible to the general public by the end of the book, else the book fails the believability test. Other examples I've read recently include Laurie King's A Letter of Mary (features a manuscript attributed to Mary Magdalene) and Simon Mawer's The Gospel of Judas (you can guess the author of HIS manuscript!).

This particular manuscript mystery has its moments, to be sure, but the ultimate test is, do I plan to read the other Lily Connor mysteries? At this point, I'm not at all sure. Lily, as portrayed in this book, is not a particularly engaging person. She seems unhappy with herself, her life, and not very interested in engaging with the people around her, especially the Biblical scholar, an old schoolmate, who unexpectedly reenters her life. I just wasn't convinced that she was a person with whom I wanted to spend more of my time. Unlike the characters in Laurie King's mysteries, for example. I need a sympathetic protagonist, otherwise, why bother? However, I like the general setting and milieu well enough that I might well give Lily and Michelle another chance, should I find myself at loose ends for something to read, at some point.

Recommended for mystery fans with a religious or scholarly bent.

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