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A brilliantly clever mystery thriller with a touch of darkness - stands out in a crowd
on 3 September 2013
Clever, pageturning thrillers are not to be taken for granted. Once you discover an author who has developed the perfect formula - intriguing mystery, three-dimensional characters (both goodies and baddies), gripping peril and action, drama and pathos combined, with just the right amount of realism - then you'll look forward to every book. James Douglas is such an author.
Probably best known for his fine Roman historical fiction written as Douglas Jackson (there are lots of reviews of those here), his present day thrillers are just as well written and researched, plotted and compelling, with threads running through of ancient mysteries and their more recent corruption, usually at the hands of the Nazis. The Excalibur Codex is the third in the series which features art recovery expert Jamie Saintclair and it is every bit as good as its two predecessors, The Doomsday Testament and The Isis Covenant.
As with all thrillers, I don't want to give anything away of the plot but it's clear from the title that we're dipping in to Arthurian territory here. Jamie is in need of a distraction and it's provided by old friend and collector Adam Steele who asks Jamie to follow the clues to the hiding place of Arthur's sword, Excalibur. The puzzle takes Jamie and his companions across Europe and further in the hunt for people who have distorted the past and even completely dislocated it from its roots and there is much more to it than mythology's most famous sword.
The Excalibur Codex stands on its own very well. I would recommend that you read the other two first but it isn't vital. The beginning of The Excalibur Codex is extraordinary - explosive, shocking and memorable - and sets the stage well for what is to follow.
Douglas's interest and knowledge of history is a real bonus in his thrillers and the meticulous detail, packed within adrenalin-laced action, is very effective. You have to have your wits about you as the story twists and turns, but so too does Jamie Saintclair. It is difficult to know whom to trust. The style is exciting, mixing narratives in the past and present, with a strong element set in Nazi Europe - always well done in this series. Jamie is himself an intriguing figure, especially in this novel where a shadow hangs over him, keeping him relentlessly in its grip and adding another layer of interest for us.
I bought The Excalibur Codex at Heathrow, fortunate to find it early, and it proved to be a true impediment to my sightseeing in Paris. It was, though, the perfect holiday companion. If you like clever mystery thrillers, with a touch of darkness, then you can do little better than this series which continues to stand out in quite a crowd.