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Book Review: The Templar Legacy by Steve Berry

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Written in 2006, The Templar Legacy joined a growing glut of Templar stories. Once again, the narrative takes on the myth of those legendary knights and the secrets they protected. Once again, the effort subverts Christian tradition. Readers offended by The Da Vinci Code beware — Steve Berry’s novel is both more subversive and a slightly better story.

Former Department of Justice operative Cotton Malone pairs with his former boss, Stephanie Nelle, to finish the quest for the Templars’ “Great Devise,” a search that ended with Nelle's estranged husband’s death. Twists, intrigue and contrivance unite a band of gumshoe scholars, each with secrets to hide and wounds to heal.

Early chapters make for a fast read at first. Berry’s prose tends to go soft in places, particularly in the middle chapters, and runs for too long in many others. With such a massive tale to spin, characterization suffers. His villain becomes a paper cut-out seasoned readers have seen before, and his heroes turn flat once you peel away their glossy veneers.

Themes of loss and family weave throughout the lives of the chief players. Berry does little to satisfy the influence these traits would have on their actions, with the exception of one, and the development tips the scales away from our principle protagonist. Cotton Malone never gets the role his character deserves. The former agent is an able sleuth, far removed from the awkward likes of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon, and much more reminiscent of an Indiana Jones archetype. Even his name says “hero.” Yet Malone rides shotgun for much of the latter half of the story instead of taking a seat at the wheel. Instead, a strong sense of history and double cross drive the wagon.

Berry keeps the hulking narrative moving with a sufficient and compelling MacGuffin that satisfies every question raised by the narrative’s early set ups. Much of the narrative’s pleasure lies in the rich layers of historical intrigue put down without dropping the reader in a lecture hall. Though the story plumbs the deep reserves of a well-tapped waterhole, Berry sells the ruse with a compelling look back at dark portions of European history. He crafts a real past for his story, making its present a much more palpable world, lending the narrative a solid enough grip to make its shortcomings a little more forgivable.

Dense plot turns pile on thick, however; after 300 pages, each new twist earns an eye roll more than renewed interest. Though the novel satisfies every hanging thread, the ending gets a little anticlimactic. By the novel’s mid-point, enough clues have surfaced to make guessing the resolution an easy game.

Much like Da Vinci, the big reveal here relies on carefully ignored portions of biblical history and scholarship to sell the significance of the discovery. Legacy leans more toward Gnostic ideas. The four New Testament Gospels receive a critical pounding, yet Berry leaves no room for scholarship concerning the remaining portions of the canon to object (or even support, for that matter). For all the novel’s historical winks and nods at authenticity, the big secret suffers from underwhelming research.

Casual readers may find the trip through history a little more complicated than they’d like, and slower portions make it hard to keep going. The journey, better than Da Vinci, still lacks the heart to make it stick with you once your fingers turn that last page.

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