The Book of Q

Written by Jonathan Rabb
Review by Ann Chamberlin

On a humanitarian mission to war-torn Bosnia in 1992, American would-be priest Ian Pearse avoids falling shells while he has a brief affair with a local beauty named Petra. Eight years later, Pearse is in Rome, ordained and scholarly, when a monk friend shoves an ancient manuscript in his hands at the funeral of a mutual acquaintance who died under suspicious circumstances. Then the monk vanishes. Clues in the parchment eventually lead him to The Book of Q of the title–from the German word Quelle, “source”–the theoretical original words of Jesus upon which the later Gospels were based. The chase leads to Greek’s Mount Athos and then back to Bosnia. Here Pearse discovers a plot to use Q to reinstate the ancient heretical Manichean cult and take over the Catholic church.

Bestselling author of The Overseer, Rabb uses all the elements of the thriller to good effect. There are even some lyrical passages, but once or twice, when absolute clarity is called for in this genre, I found myself confused by verbiage. Then, too, when I hoped for some truly esoteric gnosis, the riddles were solved by resort to simple acrostics and secret panels. My biggest disappointment came in realizing I was misled: This is not a historical novel. Never do characters appear in a pre-present time. Mining the past for a cult with no modern descendants to complain of sacrilege may create “safe” theological terrorists, a little too “safe” to really thrill, in my opinion. But replacing the thriller’s recipe for a weapon of mass destruction with ancient parchments does not historical fiction make.