Jeffrey Small,
The Breath of God
(West Hills Press, 2011)

In Jeffrey Smalls' The Breath of God, we encounter a young graduate student who treks to Tibet, determined to find the writings of an early saint named Issa, who, in scholarly circles, is believed to be a myth. Grant Matthews intends to make his academic bones by proving the man really lived and that the papers he left behind are genuine.

Huge and powerful forces are aligned to stop him because, if the writings are real, they could blow the lid off of the established church. Religious leaders, led by their own agendas, are determined to shut Matthews down, while a psychotic and fanatical serial killer is out to make Matthews his next victim. Matthews meets a beautiful young journalist who becomes his companion on the search and also becomes a target.

At this point, a cloud of familiarity is beginning to form, as we all take a breath and ask ourselves where we have read this sort of thing before. Yes, we've entered Dan Brown country. Where Brown excels, though, is in keeping the story moving at a pace that won't allow you to put down the book and at creating characters who, as long as you are engaged with the book, at least, you feel you know and care about. Brown creates verisimilitude that allows you to feel that there is a reality beneath his stories.

With Small, we never leave the land of stock characters -- the self-absorbed minister who puts his own ambition before his church, the plucky young journalist, the stock psycho killer -- and the best he can do with these stick figures is put them through a set of familiar paces.

In the end, everyone gets what is coming to him or her, but by then I had long given up caring.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

26 March 2011

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