Doctoral candidate Keith Jessup has an interesting thesis: suppose there was a hidden meaning to Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and another manuscript that explained it. Suppose the manuscript isn’t an endorsement of faith at all, but quite the opposite. The theory isn’t original; in fact there are several scholars, one of whom is Keith’s mentor, who lecture on the same premise. It all might be rather tedious and boring, researching dusty manuscripts looking for some kind of coded message in each word. Then, Keith’s mentor is killed in a car crash that may not have been accidental. There are people who openly oppose Keith’s work and try to discredit him, and there are those who utter dark threats behind closed doors. When Keith is nearly killed himself, he might abandon the quest except for one thing: his mentor left his estate to Keith, including his research and the charge to bring forth the truth. But until that truth is out, and the plots exposed, someone is working “like hell” to bury Keith, his girlfriend and the Milton Manuscript.
If someone told me that the gospels proved the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ to be lies, I would fight like… well, like hell to defend heaven. That is the premise on which Barry Libin bases his story. He knows his scripture, and his observations about the scholarly world his protagonist lives in are spot-on. The mystery is engaging and the reader does feel the threat emerging page-by-page. My only reservation is a big one. As a Christian, I would be enraged to find someone trying to prove that the gospels were actually well-coded attempts to say that the story of Christ was a fable. But a poem written by someone who doesn’t claim divine knowledge? Not so much. Don’t get me wrong. I liked the book. But Dan Brown, who wrote “The DaVinci Code” knew how to sell controversy; to sell a plot to his readers; the author must make them believe in the world he has created and to accept the idea that it MATTERS. Libin is faced with the same task — in this case convincing his readers that Milton’s manuscript is a huge threat to the world of established faith. For me, that didn’t happen. Good story, good characterization, nice glimpse into the world of academia. It is even a nice read. But I wasn’t forced to hang onto the book so I wouldn’t miss a word while I reached around it to brush my teeth. That is the litmus test.
This review was originally written on iloveamysterynewsletter.com