A geek, a prof and a rabbi walk into antiquity. To get there, they leave cushy jobs, fly across the globe, scamper across the ice and swim in the deep blue sea.
With The Book of Creation, Winnipeg-based Evan Braun, a blogger, screenwriter, ghostwriter and editor, offers his first novel, published by the Manitoba Christian press World Alive, and it's not bad (nor is it expressly Christian, despite its title).
He lightly teams up with Atlanta's Clint Byars in undisclosed ways. Byars is a much more casual author, having only written the very unusual Devil Walk (2005), a personal memoir of his visit to "the demonic world." This can be left at that.
As with so many The Da Vinci Code imitators, The Book of Creation begins with a sudden, paradigm-shifting discovery. A team of archeologists in Italy has stumbled on a tremendous archeological meta-find: a full catalogue of the famous lost library of Alexandria.
This promises to explode our knowledge of the ancient world since it would itemize all written work assembled in the Roman period.
The find leads to competing intrigues. These intrigues prompt the formation of a team under the aegis of a mysterious European billionaire. This fellowship sets off to exotic locales both to seek more fun finds and to elude the nefarious nasties. En route, they take turns solving teasing puzzles and becoming increasingly criminal.
They soon learn the initial discovery is a drop in a bucket of, shall we say, biblical possibilities. And the world just about comes to a cosmic end as they sort it all out. It's really quite simple and ordinary.
The troop assembled this time involves three men: a 20-something American computer/math wiz of indeterminate beliefs who works at the Smithsonian; a 60-something forced into retirement atheistic German professor of archeology who never achieved his career potential because he was too honest about his radical (but possibly accurate!) beliefs; and a lovable elderly New York rabbi who can speak science but instead chooses to breathe spirituality.
Our motley crew clash and clash and grow and grow as they save one another over and over, inching closer and closer to the ultimate discovery. They find it not under that pyramid in Egypt nor under that Antarctic ice but somewhere a little less conventionally archeological.
On his accompanying website, Braun makes no apologies for dead obviously cribbing The Da Vinci Code and Indiana Jones. One could easily assemble a lengthy list of other homages besides The Da Vinci Code and the Indiana Jones movies: more Dan Brown (especially Digital Fortress and Deception Point), several Michael Crichton novels (especially Eaters of the Dead, Sphere, and Jurassic Park), J.R.R. Tolkien and movies like The Abyss and Stargate. This isn't so much a new book as a celebratory mosaic of books and films in this milieu.
Despite such borrowings in ways that are at once conspicuous, shameless and entertaining, there is an important difference between someone like Dan Brown and Evan Braun: Braun writes with some literary sophistication.
His novel has rounded characters. His sentences have careful cadence and thoughtful diction. Most of all: his chapters have girth. There are no 250-word cheap, built-for-the-bus chapters here.
This is a book one stays at home with because it is legitimately engaging and meaty. Still, it is so desperately easy-to-read one wonders if Braun in fact has a kind of young adult audience or even movie option in mind.
In short, the experience of reading The Book of Creation is one of much familiarity, of some cringing, of earnest captivation, and of a good deal of young-at-heart fun.
Laurence Broadhurst teaches in the departments of classics and religion and culture at the University of Winnipeg.
The Book of Creation
Book One of The Watchers Chronicle
By Evan Braun and Clint Byars
Word Alive Press, 380 pages, $18