Sunday, December 2, 2007

Book review: The Rozabal Line by Shawn Haigins

The Rozabal Line is a new thriller á la The DaVinci Code in which the author, through his fictional characters, investigates an actual world myth. In this case, the myth is quite controversial: what happened to Jesus after the crucifixion. We all know what the Bible says - even those of us who aren’t religious. This novel offers up another point of view.

Haigins’s far-flung plot is incredibly convoluted. At its simplest, a priest, Father Vincent Morgan, has been the recipient of visions of the crucifixion as well as some of his past lives. As he sets out to follow the clues contained in his visions, he stumbles upon the alternative religious theory that Jesus did not die upon the cross but was instead rescued and taken to India where he lived out the remainder of his life as a prophet, a husband, and a father. Obviously, the Catholic Church’s leaders do not want Father Morgan to find any proof of these theories and they send an assassin to stop him.

Further complicating things is the involvement of thirteen fringe terrorists (the leader of which it is insinuated may be descended from Christ and the twelve other men, when they are finally killed, are each murdered as each of the Twelve Disciples were killed) who are attempting to bring about Armageddon. This fringe group ultimately works for Osama bin-Laden who in turn is being manipulated by Opus Dei and the Illuminati (recently made popular in Dan Brown’s books).

Amid the religious quest and terrorism plot is an enormous amount of comparative religion information, some imparted as exposition-heavy dialogue between the fictional characters but mostly set forth in narrative flashbacks. There’s a lot of ground covered: for example, one chapter alone bounces from North India 3127 B.C., to the Indo-Nepal border 566 B.C., to the Judean Desert 26 A.D., to Persia 1000 B.C., to Syria 2000 B.C., to Egypt 3000 B.C., back to Persia 600 B.C., returning to Judea 23 A.D., then North India in 2001 A.D., Constantinople 337 and 553 A.D., France 185 A.D., and finally Turin, Italy 1988 A.D. The Christian Gospels, Judaism, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Shinto, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Apocrypha all get discussed in a fair amount of detail, as well as the cult of the divine feminine and the beliefs of the ancient Greeks, Romans and Incans. There’s even some tantric yoga and past-life regression hypnotherapy thrown in for good measure.

The story part of the story is difficult to follow because of the many, many jumps between plotlines and timelines. In addition, I found that I really didn’t care what happened: so little time was spent with any of the various fictional characters that I was unable to relate to them. I was actually more interested in the comparative religion discussions than I was in the fiction. At one point, Haigins points out that many world religions have “gods, prophets, messengers or angels who [share] commonalities with Jesus Christ.” He mentions, among others, Osiris and Horus (Egyptian), Perseus, Hermes, Hercules and Adonis (Greek), Mithras (Indo-Iranian), Baldur (Norse) and Quetzalcoatl (Aztec), all of whom existed in legend prior to Jesus, and each of whom shared something with - or contributed something to - the Christian Messiah, whether it be virgin birth, performance of miracles or resurrection after death. I am not a religious person, but I have always loved to read different mythologies and I found this fascinating.

The Rozabal Line is Haigins’s first work of fiction. According to the “About the Author” note, he is currently working on two more books, another novel and a non-fiction book on the history of religions. Given this current novel’s strengths and weaknesses, I think the history text will be very interesting as Haigins obviously has a comprehensive knowledge of and affinity for the subject. I just may wait a little while before picking up his next cliff-hanger.

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