Eric Van Lustbader,
The Testament
(Forge, 2006)

Read the following synopsis: An older member of a family, who belongs to a secret order, is brutally murdered. A younger family member is suddenly thrust in the middle of a war with another secret society over hidden truths about Jesus. These truths, if in the wrong hands and released to the world, would cause untold chaos within the Christian religion and the world in general. Thus ensues hundreds of pages where this younger individual, aided by an expert the murdered family member trusted, first solves a cryptic puzzle and then flees for his life as his enemies are right on his heels. The breakneck speed from mental ingenuity to manic chase scene is repeated ad nauseum.

I might be describing Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code. But, in this case, no. This synopsis describes Eric Van Lustbader's 2006 novel The Testament. Some people will staunchly point out that in The Testament, the main character, Bravo, is male. Not to mention, it was his father that gets murdered, not his grandfather. And instead of the Priory of Sion and Opus Dei, Lustbader's secret societies are the Gnostic Observatines and the Knights of St. Clement. How can I even compare the puzzles that lead to the secrets about Jesus? And aren't the secrets in this book more hard-hitting than the thought that Jesus had children, as in Brown's book?

While I was a little worried Lustbader might be trying to jump on the popularity of the religion-puzzle-chase genre that many attribute to Brown, I was eager to read The Testament. EVL is one of my favorite authors from the 1980s and early '90s. Lustbader's unique style with thrillers such as The Ninja and Shan, and fantasy books like The Sunset Warrior series led me to believe I was in for a treat.

And I was not disappointed ... at first. With the prologue, Lustbader does something he is an expert at. He writes about an intriguing history. In this case, the reader witnesses a frontal attack by the Knights on the Observatines at their secret fortress in 1442. As is typical with an EVL novel, the readers will quickly draw an attachment to main characters and feel themselves pulled in to the story, watching, as a fly on the wall, while the action unfolds.

Even as I was introduced to Bravo and lived his father's murder through his eyes, I was enthralled. The main plot points might be strikingly similar to Brown's work, but The Testament was going to be a better read. I could just tell. Unfortunately, something happened. Somewhere along the way, the writing style changed. I have no way to prove this, but either Lustbader had a ghost writer for much of this novel, or maybe his editor took the job a little too seriously and decided to rewrite parts of the book. There are huge sections where the writing appears hacked by someone whose writing style I'm not familiar with. The editing is often poorly done and will annoy any nit-picky English-teacher types.

Unlike other Lustbader novels, The Testament seems to have numerous plot holes. Either many of the dots do not connect, or I zoned out too often as I was bored with whoever's writing this was. I have not read any of Lustbader's Bourne novels since he took over penning the series started by the late Robert Ludlum. Perhaps this is Lustbader's new writing style for modern-day thrillers. If so, I'm no longer a fan. I know his recent Pearl Saga contains the old, familiar style I have enjoyed for more than two decades, so I am inclined to believe that much of this book is simply not his. Again, I have no proof. I can only speculate.

It is a sad day as I have no choice but to warn readers away from this novel. I especially have to warn away true fans of Eric Van Lustbader. The Testament will surely disappoint you and I would hate for Lustbader's legacy as a writer to be tainted in someone's mind. The only positives I can mention is that you can visit his website (see below) and view a short interview with the author. Despite this stinker of a book, Lustbader is still a fascinating individual and seems to have more ideas flowing from his brain. It is enough to make me hopeful about his next offering.

[ visit the author's website ]

review by
Wil Owen

21 April 2007

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