The Righteous Men, by Sam Bourne

Will Monroe is a reporter for the New York Times who's assigned a couple of murder cases to cover. He spots some similarities in the cases: both are men who while outwardly living on the wrong side of the law have performed acts of great righteousness. Maybe he's on to something? Then his wife is kidnapped and he receives anonymous threats warning him off.

I wanted to read this because it was written by Jonathan Freedland, a Guardian columnist who I think is OK, and because I'd read the first chapter which was published as a free thing on a website. The bookshop has stacks of this, but I got it out of the library.

I think this is the same vein as the Da Vinci code: in this case some of the Jewish traditions and stories are used as the basis for a conspiracy and cover up involving the murder of the 32 "righteous men" upon whose existence the world depends, or something. I'm not sure whether Jonathan Freedland intended that his Sam Bourne pseudonym would fool anyone, but I'm strongly tempted to believe that, because frankly I'd be ashamed to have written this if I were him.

Not having read the Da Vinci code, I can't say whether this is "better" or "worse", but it was a pretty poor effort, and from what I know of the other book seems like a straightforward attempt to cash in on the religious conspiracy serial murder genre.

It was implausible on so many levels that it's not worth bothering enumerating them. But the one that really stuck out was that Will received a series of phone text messages from someone who was trying to help him. The sender, being worried about being found out, did not send information in a straightforward way, but instead sent little puzzles which Sam and his high-IQ friend managed to decode and so progress a bit further in their investigations. Now it seems to me that if you're sending text messages and are worried in case someone goes through your phone and reads what you've sent, then it doesn't make a lot of difference that the message says "keep on looking" or "rats in clover" (the book's gone back to the library now, so that's not a real example but it's not unlike the real thing): in either case you're taking a bit of a risk if you're an infiltrator of a gang of murderous rabbis.

The "puzzles" were pretty poor, but it turned out that "Sam Bourne" didn't even make them up - in a "thanks" section at the end of the book, he expresses gratitude to the Guardian's puzzle-writer for coming up with them.

Readable enough, but only in the sense of being jaw-droppingly bad.

Completed : 19-Feb-2007

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