After enjoying David Gibbins' Atlantis, I was excited about reading Crusader Gold. The plot of this novel centers on marine archaeologist Jack Howard and his International Maritime University team's search for the greatest lost treasure of the Hebrews: the Menorah, which was looted from their temple by the Romans. Professor and marine archaeologist Gibbins spins a plausible alternate history predicated on the idea that Viking king Harald Hardrada was not killed by the Anglo-Saxons, but survived to continue his plundering, eventually making off with the Hebrew treasure, and venturing off into the west.
As he did throughout Atlantis, Gibbins presents a rich, detailed historical backdrop. He makes liberal use of the "As you know, Bob" technique, in which massive quantities of information are presented in the guise of dialogue. Unfortunately, he lays it on too thick too often, and the plot grinds to frequent halts under the weight of heaps of stiff, unbelievable conversation, lacking the natural flow of genuine conversation. Many sections come across as lectures.
The characters in Crusader Gold serve primarily to tell the reader the back story and go through the motions of plot. We don't learn much about the individuals, and they lack character arcs, either within the book or from book-to-book for returning characters. There are some good action sequences, but Gibbins gives the reader little reason to wonder or even care if they will survive. The adversaries are painted in only the broadest strokes: an ancient group with Nazi connections. Like the protagonists, they are not afforded a great deal of development. The requisite Vatican conspiracy connection also rears its head to annoy those of us who are ready for something different, leading one to wonder when the echoes of The Da Vinci Code will fade away, if ever.
The action sequences are entertaining, if not particularly suspenseful, and the history is interesting, though dry. The climactic battle takes place at an unexpected locale, which is a plus. Crusader Gold is a must-read for devoted Gibbins fans, but a major letdown for readers looking for fast-paced action and gripping suspense.