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- Published on Amazon.com
There is often nothing better than a well-written thriller. Davis Bunn has a terrific new book that takes you away - `The Black Madonna.'
Here is the synopsis of this novel:
Following the international acclaimed Gold of Kings, Storm Syrrell returns in the compelling story of The Black Madonna.
Antiques expert Storm Syrrell heads to Europe to investigate the clandestine trade in religious artifacts. She dismisses superstitious tales of miraculous healings and divine omens. Yet when an obsessive Russian oligarch calls - just as her friend Harry Bennett vanishes - all assumptions must be cast aside. Storm seeks answers in a medieval monastery. There, the scarred visage of an icon provokes even more startling questions. Is she prepared to confront both earthly and spiritual powers? Storm remains haunted by lessons in love and betrayal that lie just outside her grasp. But hesitation now holds mortal consequences.
Here is the biography of the author:
Davis Bunn ([...])is an award-winning author, recognized for literary excellence in genres as diverse as historical sagas, contemporary thrillers, and inspirational gift books. His novels have sold more than six million copies in sixteen languages.
Davis has received numerous accolades, including three Christy Awards for excellence in fiction. He currently serves as writer in residence at Regent's Park College, Oxford University. He divides his time between England and Florida, and lectures internationally on the craft of writing.
I have read one other book by this author - `The Hidden Flame,' co-written with Janette Oke (you can read my review here - [...]). He is an amazing writer!
The book opens with one of the primary characters, Harry Bennett, a treasure hunter, getting into some trouble in Hebron on the West Bank in Israel. That area has been historically renowned in terms of biblical people:
After sunset, the Hebron air cooled at a grudging pace. Harry watched as the city square filled with people and traffic and shadows. The café became crowded with people who avoided looking Harry's way. Across the plaza, the Tomb of the Patriarchs shone pearl white. Beside the cave complex stood the Mosque of Abraham, a mammoth structure dating back seven hundred years.
The caves had been bought by the patriarch Abraham for four hundred coins, such an astronomical sum that the previous owner had offered to throw in the entire village. But Abraham had insisted upon overpaying so that his rightful ownership would never be questioned. He had wanted the caves as his family's burial site because supposedly they were also where Adam and Eve had been laid to rest. Besides Abraham himself, the caves also held the remains of his wife, Sarah, along with Rebecca, Isaac, and Jacob. (pp. 5-6)
Harry had an unusual mission this time:
After nearly three years of roiling conflict, the Israeli Antiquities Authority had basically lost control of smuggling in the West Bank. In the past, the IAA had nabbed about ninety thieves each year for pilfering tombs, ruined cities, palaces, and forts. Since the latest political trouble began, however, arrests had slumped to almost nothing. The IAA knew without question that the worst culprits were getting away. The international arts market was being flooded with ancient Hebrew treasures. What was more, a growing number of these items were bogus. Extremely well crafted, their workmanship often able to fool museum directors and other supposed experts, but phony just the same.
The Israeli government had needed someone with Harry Bennett's credentials, known throughout the world as a dedicated treasure dog. Somebody capable of infiltrating the system and identifying the source of the fake artifacts. (p. 11)
The main character, Storm Syrrell, finds herself in the midst of the aftermath of the thievery of Bernie Madoff - a slice of real life in this fictional book:
Not even Manalapan's [a city in Florida] superrich had managed to escape the Madoff plague. Bernie Madoff had wintered in Palm Beach. His clientele had included many of Palm Beach's finest. There were some streets on Palm Beach Island where every family faced bankruptcy, every multimillion-dollar home awaited the auctioneer's hammer, every bank account was wiped clean. The locals called these areas Bernievilles, after the depression-era Hoovervilles that had infested U.S. cities.
Needless to say, it was not ideal timing for a lady to establish herself in the Palm Beach antiques and treasures trade. (p. 17)
Storm did obtain a new client, Raphael Danton, who was in the business of provided exemplary service to his wealthy clients, doing whatever they needed to have done. Storm's friend, Emma Webb, employed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, was able to give Storm some information on him before she had the opportunity to meet him in person:
"This guy is hot. Not to mention rich. And he's single. There must be something seriously wrong here. I'm thinking some secret wasting disease."
"His attitude is about the worst I've come across."
"Honey, a rich single hunk isn't allowed to have a personality. It's the law."
"He's really a hunk?"
"Let me put it this way. When Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's kid grows up, he's going to look like armadillo roadkill beside your new client."
"Why does Homeland Security have a file on him?"
"Probably because he's so hot. I can imagine some lonely chief investigator spotting this guy in line somewhere and ordering her crew to find his home address." (pp. 31-32)
Storm and Emma ended up seeing Mr. Danton in person for the first time together:
Storm tightened her grip on her purse as Raphael Danton crossed the tarmac, climbed the stairs, and entered the terminal. Even the two ladies behind the counter stopped their conversation.
He wore a suede jacket the color of sand that probably cost more than Emma's entire wardrobe. A gold watch blinked on his tanned wrist. His eyes were more copper than brown. His jaw was straight from a movie by Cecil B. DeMille. Wavy hair to match his eyes. Long and strong body. Gorgeous tan. (p. 90)
One of the main plot points in this harrowing novel is the acquisition of religious artifacts by a mystery person. One of the items sought after is the Black Madonna of Czestochowa. A gentleman named Antonin Tarka and a Polish priest named Father Gregor explains to Storm:
"The Black Madonna of Czestochowa is a painting of Mary holding the baby Jesus. According to tradition, this icon was painted by Saint Luke himself. The painting was completed while Mary told Luke of Jesus' life. Luke then incorporated these stories and teachings into his Gospel. He painted the Black Madonna upon a cypress tabletop made by Mary's mother, Joseph."
...Father Gregor went on, "The picture remained in Jerusalem until the year 326, when it was gifted to Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine. She brought it back to her son's new capital, where it was housed in the city's cathedral. When the eastern Roman Empire fell to the Ottomans, the picture was first taken to Belz, then brought to its current home in 1382. The painting is called the Black Madonna because of the soot residue that discolors the figures, caused by centuries of votive candles and incense."
..."There have been almost two thousand years of miracles associated with this painting," Father Gregor continued. "Spontaneous healings, the repulsion of invaders - the list is endless."
Tarka said, "What you must understand, Ms. Syrrell, is that the painting's importance goes far beyond any particular miracle. The Black Madonna of Czestochowa represents Poland's ability to survive as a nation." (pp. 159-160)
I did not read the previous book featuring Storm Syrrell, `Gold of Kings.' If it's anything like this, I think I will have to backtrack into Mr. Bunn's catalog to read that one, and look forward to the continuing exploits of Ms. Syrrell. I am interested in seeing where her love life takes her (you will have to read this book to find out which of the many fascinating gentleman in this book capture her heart!).
I really enjoyed this book. It's great escapist reading, well-written, and could be converted into a terrific movie! Mr. Bunn is skilled at writing with a fashionable and classy flair. He certainly sent me all over the world - Israel, England, Switzerland - and all with excitement and intrigue.
This book was published by Howard/Touchstone, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, and provided by Glass Road Public Relations for review and giveaway purposes.
Reviewed by Andrea Schultz - Ponderings by Andrea - [...]