The cloning of Christ has seen many resurrections in recent popular fiction ranging from the purely suspenseful with John Case's Genesis Code to the apocalyptic with Beauseigneur's Christ Clone Trilogy. The "Jesus Thief" crosses the thriller boundary with a predictable story line where the emphasis is on faith and sacrifice rather than dodging the bullets created by a temporarily mad scientist's desire to vanquish the guilt of the Jews with regard to the killing of Christ.
Felix Rossi is the angst-ridden microbiologist and member of a team of international scientists commissioned to study the Shroud of Turin. When he discovers that his late beloved parents were actually Jews who had renounced their heritage to escape Hitler's Europe, Felix runs emotionally amok. Although, he debates the ethical consequences of his actions, he, nevertheless, steals threads from the Shroud, harvests the DNA from dried blood and implants it within the willing body of his loyal yet out-spoken New York maid.
In this regard, Lankford seems to know her stuff, and if all the details are simply imagined, she does a thorough job of specifying procedures and examinations, so much so that I found myself wincing and cringing more than once. However, if Lankford intended her story to be primarily a thriller, this necessity for technical perfection, at times muddles the pace of the book, as do the exacting manifestations of the devout faith all the main characters possess. Felix, his sister and cohort, Frances and Maggie, the modern-day Mary enviably begin each activity however mundane with communications with the Almighty, causing me to wonder whether the story line was meant to convey the power of such simple yet perfect faith rather than masquerade as a vehicle that has possibilities of becoming a feature film or a television movie.
If so, the real strength of Lankford's power as a storyteller does not lie in recreating a Christmas story for the 21st century with themes of racial acceptance (Maggie as an African American contributes a percentage of her gene material to the holy clone), identity crisis (Felix's uncomfortable feelings about his unknown heritage) and scientific ethics (the cloning question is looked at from a variety of aspects in general), but in her uncanny ability to demonstrate love between two unlikely people. The scenes between Sam, the Irish doorman, and Maggie sparkle with honesty, affection and mutual respect yet are infused with so much sexual heat, their passion glows from the page into the reader's soul as if by magic. Brava and encore, Ms. Lankford!
Because the story does border on perfection in these instances, the reader is ultimately let down by the events of the story, revolving around the sacrifice necessary to preserve the life of the great experiment at the expense of all four of the main characters. Instead of triggering an uplifting sense of the future where the knowledge of Christ's 'second coming' should exact some jubilation, the reader empathizes with the resigned attitudes of all the major players. A feeling of doom presages a repeat performance of the first coming 2000 years earlier, as augured by the symbolic usage of the thorns and dogwood cited in the very last paragraph.
The novel's villain, a King Herod-wannabe outwitted by Joseph (Sam the doorman) and guided by a magi of his own fears the birth of the child foretold in an astrological chart, remains a viable threat. Although trounced, he seems ready play a big part in a sequel perhaps currently in the workings where further confrontations with the growing child will prove challenging in a sort of reverse Omen type trilogy.
Recommended to all those who love a retelling of the Nativity story. Subtract a star if you dislike too many pages devoted to medical how-to or if you are a romantic at heart and would have liked a happier ending involving two of the most deserving characters.