Frederick Ramsay,
The Wolf & the Lamb
(Poisoned Pen Press, 2014)

The Wolf & the Lamb is nominally a murder mystery set in Jerusalem over Passover week in the year 30 CE ... which happens here to be when a certain Jesus of Nazareth was arrested, executed and was said to have risen from the grave. While that story is a backdrop to the events in the novel, that means the novel is itself something of a fictional backdrop to events in the New Testament. That interplay is one of the most fascinating things in the novel, and I admire the way Frederick Ramsay interweaves the various threads -- none of which belonged to followers of Yeshua.

Instead, the main focus is Gamaliel, the head of the Jewish governing body the Sanhedrin, who gets drafted to intervene when Pontius Pilate is accused of murder. Neither he nor Pilate are exactly happy with this state of affairs, but both see it as necessary; however, neither is exactly forthcoming to the other, which does not aid the investigation.

All this sounds fascinating, and in some ways it is. The basic bones of the plot(s) are nicely calculated and effectively paced, with solid interweaving amongst them.

However, I have some serious problems with the writing itself.

Most obviously, there is far too much exposition done in dialogue of the "As you know, Bob..." style -- often the same points made multiple times in multiple conversations! More trust in the reader to figure things out, and possibly some footnotes as needed, would have worked better and not slowed down the action.

While the points of view in each chapter are pretty tight, there are far, far too many POV characters. This makes it increasingly artificial that Ramsay was hiding pertinent facts from the reader while exposing damn near everyone's POV. It's awkward.

Even when the dialogue is not of the "As you know, Bob..." variety, it is stilted and repetitive, and one could not differentiate any individual's voice from any other, even when they ought to have been wildly different.

It would have been nice, too, if the various characters did not contradict themselves, apparently unintentionally, about what they do or do not know -- sometimes in aspects pertaining to the plot, but often not.

In short, while the premise of the book is very interesting, and it does give some background information and speculation about the background of Jesus's crucifixion, the writing made it hard for me to get through it.

book review by
Amanda Fisher

6 June 2015

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