Mark McKerracher

Fantasy fiction

Review: The Last Gospel

The Last Gospel by David Gibbins

This is the third novel in the Jack Howard series of archaeological adventures but, as it turns out, you don’t need to have read the earlier novels to enjoy this one (I haven’t read them).

The Last Gospel’s intricate plot unfolds mystery after mystery, layer upon layer, and it would spoil the fun if I were to reveal any of these mysteries here. But in summary: archaeologist Jack Howard and his sidekicks traverse the globe, trying to retrieve a lost ancient manuscript, by way of a forgotten female cult spanning the ancient world.

The blurb sells this as an Indiana-Jones-meets-Dan-Brown kind of adventure, but it is more (and in some ways better) than that. The Dan Brown element is basically represented by a sinister branch of the Catholic church which pursues Jack, but to me it feels to me like a bolt-on to substantiate the Dan Brown comparison. It doesn’t exactly permeate the whole story, as it should if it’s going to provide a real sense of menace. Anyway, there’s already plenty of jeopardy from the weird and dangerous situations that Jack and his bluff mate Costas find themselves in (claustrophobia alert).

As for Indiana Jones… the protagonist and his sidekicks do travel from country to country following clues and getting into scrapes. But unlike maverick Indy, Jack Howard, is a modern archaeologist with an encyclopaedic knowledge of seemingly every branch of history and archaeology. Quite a bit of the narrative is taken up with his monologues, expounding the next relevant bit of antiquity and his own theories. This is largely because the author has devised such an archaeologically intricate, ingenious and well-researched plot that we need some thorough explanations. I don’t mind that too much (I am an archaeologist, after all), but it’s a shame that so much of the explanation has to come out in lectures by the omnipotent Jack (Indy would never have the luxury of time to recount the history of the oracles whilst flying a helicopter). For me, this dampened what ought to have been a very charismatic character. His colleagues – particularly Costas and the portly German egyptologist Maurice Hiebermeyer – are much more memorable and likeable.

All in all, a pacy and interesting read in need of a character-boost: ***

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