Sign of the Cross

By: Chris Kuzneski
Published by: Jove Books, 2006

File this one under "Religious Conspiracy" novels.

Once again, we discover that the Catholic Church - specifically, The Vatican - is covering up a "secret that will shake the very foundations of Christianity."

Granted, it's a new twist: this time, the cover up will prevent the world from learning that a certain Roman really invented the whole Christ Story for the purpose of stirring the pot to, incalculably, keep Rome in charge of the world.

But then, the main characters are pretty improbable, too. And Kuzneski has trouble turning off the smart-mouth delivery when he switches from one of his two wiseacre heroes (Jones and Payne, one black, one white, both handsome, daring, able to leap tall building... but I digress) to his narrator.

As is typical of this brand of fiction, the plot trails us along on a world-wide adventure (I can't help wondering when the main characters eat, sleep, and use the bathroom) over a short period of time, to heck with the expense, the long waits at the airport while security makes you take off your shoes, and where the cash is coming from.

Jones and Payne, former members of an elite inside force called MANIACs, have been hired to find and catch the dastardly Dr. Boyd, who, using his beautiful student Maria (Magdelena, naturally) Pelati, has uncovered the heretofore hidden scrolls that tell all about the REAL story behind Jesus Christ. (Why, if the Catholic Church is so intent upon covering up these secrets, do they always leave the evidence lying about, one wonders.)

Soon they learn Dr. Boyd is not who he appears to be, Maria is more than what she appears to be, and the poor Pope has no idea what's really going on at all.

What's good about the book: it's a fast, essentially entertaining read, sort of like watching a B movie on the Sci-Fi channel on a rainy Sunday afternoon. There are better things you could do with your time, but if you're going to goof off, it's a reasonably harmless way to do so. What's bad: the forced charm of the two heroes, the standard Vatican bad guy message, and the silliness of the outcome (compared to a pretty good setup at the beginning).


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