Review: The Virgin of the Wind Rose – Glen Craney

The Virgin of the Wind Rose5 out of 5 prayers

A Christopher Columbus Mystery

My version:

Historical Fiction, Adventure

Self Published
Sent by author

While investigating the murder of an American missionary in Ethiopia, rookie State Department lawyer Jaqueline Quartermane becomes obsessed with a magical word square found inside an underground church guarding the tomb of the biblical Adam.

Drawn into a web of esoteric intrigue, she and a roguish antiquities thief named Elymas must race an elusive and taunting mastermind to find the one relic needed to resurrect Solomon’s Temple. A trail of cabalistic clues leads them to the catacombs of Rome, the crypt below Chartres Cathedral, a Masonic shaft in Nova Scotia, a Portuguese shipwreck off Sumatra, and the caverns under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Intertwined with this modern mystery-thriller, a parallel duel is waged:

The year is 1452. One of the most secretive societies in history, Portugal’s Order of Christ, is led by a reclusive visionary, Prince Henry the Navigator. He and his medieval version of NASA merged with the CIA scheme to foil their archenemies, the Inquisitor Torquemada and Queen Isabella of Castile, who plan to bring back Christ for the Last Judgment by ridding the world of Jews, heretics, and unbelievers.

Separated by half a millennium, two conspiracies to usher in the Tribulations promised by the Book of Revelation dovetail in this fast-paced thriller to expose the world’s most explosive secret: The true identity of Christopher Columbus and the explorer’s connection to those now trying to spark the End of Days.

I am a sucker for this kind of thing. As Glen there surmised, which is why he sent me a copy (thanks for that). Even so, it was a little of a strange beast to pin down. Not least because it is, in a way, two books in one, either of which, extracted from the other, would have made a great novel on their own. At the end, I was certain to give it a 5, purely based on the book that takes place back in 15th Century Portugal and Spain. The more modern stuff, while being just about equally good, was let down a little, by the overtly Christian angle of the main character, Jacqueline Quartermaine. I tried several times, to see why the passages where she expresses or we find out about her beliefs, were in here. Well, not so much why – as they work to explain her knowledge of Christianity when a problem requiring ‘insider’ knowledge needs solving – more, why the passages go through without any kind of comment from the book. On the one hand, I can’t figure if the author is a Christian believer, and believes all the “Sunday school grasp on reality” clap-trap she and the Reverend Merry spout. On the other hand, maybe it’s there to compare and contrast with the religious fervour from the 1400’s? Where the beginnings of the Inquisition were stirring and folk had to announce to all and sundry that they believe in and ask for help from an imaginary friend, rather than just saying it to get elected as the next President of the USA, etc. Someone being more trustworthy the more they say they believe in the Easter bunny. Let’s go for it’s perhaps (intentionally or unintentionally) showing the arrogance of Christianity today.

I’ve seen a review or two, where they mention some of the ‘what it’s like’ stuff, so here’s my take. I got tastes of Indiana Jones (obviously), but also The Jewel on The Nile, even King Solomon’s Mines and not just because her surname is Quatermaine (though he is Quatermaine in H. Rider Haggard’s classic). There are obvious shades of Dan Brown, yes those two books, and Clive Cussler – in the amazing coincidences that happen – i.e. them accidentally bumping into leading scholars in precisely the branch of science, history, or whatever they need to bump into a world leading scholar of, at that precise moment. The unfathomable word puzzle, I’m pretty sure I’ve also seen before, but can’t for the life of me remember where…that reminded me of The Rule of Four. However, The Virgin of the Wind Rose never ever disappears up its own backside, as that one did with great ‘fart,’ as we say here in Denmark. So a mishmash of other books? No. Certainly not. This is one where the sum of the parts IS much greater than the parts…It will appeal to all those to whom those afore-mentioned books and films appeal to and more. It is, the Sunday School for the under 5’s Christian stuff apart, an excellent, interesting, challenging, addictive and very rewarding read. Look – I’m still figuring it out all these days later.

As I said, it can be seen, well I saw it anyway, as two books in one. The here and now fair zips about the world, from Africa to the USA, to all over. The 15th Century part of the story is a little more studied, taking place mostly in Portugal, with excursions to Spain. A brotherhood of Knights, the ‘Order of Christ,’ seem to be intent on taking up the mantle and mission of the Knights Templar. They want to discover the thought to be undiscoverable parts of the world, thus hopefully increasing humanity’s knowledge and general understanding. This part of the book hinges on the appearance of the man we know as Christopher Columbus. If you’ve previously read anything around this period or the search for knowledge at this point, there will be several references to enjoy. Prester John, for one, I was particularly interested to come across. Again, I’ve seen and read references to this legendary Christian king who, in the 12th – 17th Century, was thought to rule a ‘lost’ Christian kingdom, sometimes thought to be in Asia, sometimes in Africa (generally a long, long, unverifiable, way away). Indeed, Portuguese knights did come to the conclusion that he was in Ethiopia, as the Order of Christ do here. The order’s leader sends ships out to discover the passages and routes that were thought to be impossible/impassable and Christopher Columbus comes along at just the right time. The idea that he says he is looking for a way to India, but really knowing exactly where he is going, based on knowledge of The Templars having sailed to the American continent, isn’t a new one. Not to me, anyway. Fair enough in what it is, but I’d have liked at least some credit given to the Vikings. If you have read, or do read James Robert Enterline’s Viking America, you’ll find a very good, very well argued discussion on exactly what Christopher Columbus knew, what he said he knew and where he knew it from.

Speaking of going sailing off the edge of the world…the ‘present day’ story (though some characters have their minds 2,000 years earlier) involves Jacqueline Quartermaine, a lawyer for the US State Department. Though given the naivety of her views, it would seem the entrance bar is quite low these days. She begins the story with a meeting with the Reverend Calvin Merry, described as her ‘mentor.’ He is a barking at the moon, giving lunatics a bad name, mad Christian. What we in Europe would call a fundamentalist, though as for if that’s true for the US, one glance at the Presidential race coverage would suggest not. Though, from the start there is more than meets the eye to him. For instance, where he is building his ‘Museum of the Millennium,’ is called ‘The Scottish Rite Temple.’ Which he says he has bought from the Masons, who of course, developed out of The Knights Templar… This is where “I’m going to recreate the Rapture and Tribulation times for unbelievers. When they see first-hand what the End of Days will be like, they’ll run into the arms of the Lord.” In other words, a theme park, a refuge for believers that the apocalypse is now, probably crossed with a spaceship. He’s clearly spared no expense. While he is openly bat-shit mad, he – ironically – manages to convince HER to admit herself to an asylum. For deprogramming after she has been in contact with “evil forces from foreign lands” i.e., she’s been looking in Christian cathedrals that are built on old Mithraic sites – and generally closer to the home of Christianity than where he’s saying it, the USA, but moving on…The very Reverend reassures her she will get “round the clock counselling and power prayer.” ‘Power prayer’? Prayers sent first class? Marked Top Priority? More important than normal prayers? If he’s intending mocking the Christian fundamentalists there are on the loose in the USA, then fine. Showing them to be just as straight-jacket deranged as the other lot in the news a lot just now, opening them to mockery – I’m all for it. But, if he’s writing this because HE believes it, then we’re going to have problems. The first awkward moments in the book come here, as you expect even someone (Jaqueline) who claims to “believe that every word of Scripture happened just as it was written” to say “’Erm, just a mo, Rev…” But no. Unless I missed it because my eyes were rolling so high? She believes it without question and makes me hope she gets what’s coming. Especially, after the Reverend informs her that her dead boyfriend “Paul must be needed in Heaven, my love” and while she herself, soon after viewing the End of Days theme park, is travelling in Ethiopia when…“The glassy-eyed man sitting next to her explained in broken English that these flayed plains were haunted by jinns. She shook her head in exasperation that these Ethiopians preferred splitting headaches to being set upon by imaginary ancestral spirits.” Let’s go with her advanced gullibility being in there to explain how she knows so much of the biblical stuff needed to solve problems and, given the general superb-icy of the rest of the book, I really can’t imagine that it isn’t done deliberately, for the irony. Reality, wit and humour and interest are brought to the modern day section, by a larger than life character she runs into several times, called Elymas. He is involved in helping Jewish people recover their stolen property, from those who have stolen it down the ages, not just WWII. He is and isn’t all he seems and the story is always interesting when he comes in. Together, they form an uneasy team, setting off to solve the riddle of who is stealing artefacts based around the End of Days, end of the World – and why.

There are times when reading books like this, where you have to wonder at the intricate and superbly, water-tight plotted story: how on earth did they come up with that? Everything fits, forwards and back, each on the surface unusual incident or proposition, is fully argued and worked out. Reading the Author’s note at the end, only increases my admiration for what Glen has attempted here. But then OK, it’s a superbly thought and worked out plot, but is there any literary meat on the bones of the idea? Is there a development from I wonder…? to a good story? Is the writing and characters any good, is there anything that irritates or delights, as there should be? Yes, there’s plenty that does all that. The two story strands become very nicely intertwined around the last third of the book. By doing so, they reveal what the first two-thirds had been about and their relevance to the story as a whole. The past is mirrored in the present, with one of the links being the unquestioning belief in God, Jesus and the soon approaching End of Days in both periods. The 15th Century story, I found particularly riveting, full of interest and nuance. The final sections in particular, were poignant, thought-provoking and rewarding. The present day story, was slightly less nuanced, but is perhaps meant to be a more straight ahead all-action, race against time, historical, theological thriller. I missed some commentary worked in, in the Christianity passages. I figured those parts, with the Rev, may well be in to both explain Jacqueline’s Christian knowledge and to explain/make the shock at the end, more of a shock. Not least to her and her faith. The ending is nicely rounded off, while still being open for further books. All in all, the 15th Century sections deserve a 6 out of 5, the present day, 4 (if only because a Scot, would never say ‘burglarized.’ Especially not with a z). Add together, divide by two, for the two books and we get a 5 Star review for a thoroughly enjoyable, thrilling and inspiring read. Can’t say fairer than that.

You can buy The Virgin of the Wind Rose at The Book Depository

Related reviews on Speesh Reads:

Viking AmericaThe Rule of Four




Me, on Goodreads

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