D.L. Wilson,
Unholy Grail
(Berkeley, 2007)

No author wants to have his book labeled as a knockoff of somebody else's work -- after all, everybody who writes about the Civil War isn't ripping off Stephen Crane anymore than everybody who plays acoustic finger-picked blues is stealing from Mississippi John Hurt. The fact is, though, the first thought of any reader of Unholy Grail is that Wilson is trying to cruise on the success of The Da Vinci Code. A back-cover blurb from Andrew Gross declares this book to be "in the Da Vinci Code vein."

Again, a conspiracy within the Catholic church, determined to stop the release of information that will shake the foundations of the church, maybe even bring it down, leads to multiple murders and increasing danger for the protagonists.

In this one, Father Romano, a Jesuit priest and crack researcher, is drawn into the conspiracy when a murderer who calls himself Raphael (after the archangel) tries to frame him for the shooting of another researcher, Brittany Hamar. Both are offered a mysterious parchment written by Jesus's brother, James, which is said to prove the foundations upon which Christianity rests are, shall we say, shaky at the very least. All he has to do is show up at Grand Central Station. He doesn't know that Hamar, who is working on a book called The Jesus Fraud, has received the same invitation. When Romano tries to keep the appointment, he finds himself framed for the shooting of Hamar.

The frame doesn't hold and Romano, a man out to preserve Christianity, finds himself teamed with Hamar, whom he suspects is trying to destroy it, to solve a few mysteries: is the parchment genuine? Who is going around the world killing off Jesuit priests? Why are they being killed? Is Brittany Hamar a victim or a conspirator?

Wilson keeps the action moving and his device of shifting point of view to achieve an effect of multiple narrators is effective. The pace is fast, broken only by occasional long passages of exposition while characters explain to each other things we as readers need to know to understand it.

Is Unholy Grail a Da Vinci Code clone? Readers will probably have to determine that for themselves. Does the question of its antecedents really matter? No. This book stands up on its own.

by Michael Scott Cain
24 March 2007

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