Mira, Sep 2007
Reviewed by Joy
Josh Ryder's interesting life as an international photographer is transformed by an exploding bomb. Josh and all his doctors think that his hallucinations of life in other times are caused by brain damage. The exception is the Phoenix Foundation, whose leaders believe Josh is remembering his past lives.
Viscerally, Josh knows his memories are real. Mentally, he wants proof. In the meantime an archaeologist's discovery of an ancient Roman tomb, complete with the preserved body of a Vestal Virgin, requires answers that only Josh's memories can provide.
In that tomb is a set of marked jewels, which tradition says is a magical tool enabling the user to remember his own past lives. Their immediate theft, as soon as the tomb is publicized, ends in more than one murder. Josh is the only witness. He and the beautiful archaeologist Gabriella are in immediate danger.
There is a second plot set in 391 A.D., in a world in which paganism is marked for death. Julius and Sabina, priest and priestess and forbidden lovers, are desperately trying to save themselves and the treasures of their religion. How did they end up where they were discovered centuries later? What are they trying to resolve in present day, so that the spirits of Julius and Sabina and others can be satisfied?
THE REINCARNATIONIST is an intensely atmospheric thriller. On the second page we are dropped in a cold panic into fourth century Rome, then teeter vividly back and forth between times. The ancient personalities live with a tactile experience and a sympathy so strong that we care at least as much for them as we do for Josh and his present day friends.
THE REINCARNATIONIST moves at a breakneck pace. After sprinting through the opening I paused for breath. I was amazed to discover I had already read a hundred pages. At the point where it took on a DA VINCI CODE-like nature, dashing around present-day Rome eluding the police and the bad guys, that is where my interest lessened. The weakest parts of the book are probably the parts where it most resembles THE DA VINCI CODE. It was the love and desperation of Julius that wouldn't let me go.
The motivation for the violence rather surprised me. Why would someone go to all that trouble for stones rumored to make people remember their past lives? If it matters so much, why not check in with your friendly neighborhood hypnotist instead? And I was disappointed at how obvious the master criminal's identity was. It seems to me to have become practically a stereotype. However, one can't have everything.
THE REINCARNATIONIST outshines THE DA VINCI CODE in two ways: its characterization and its sincerity. These people live in more dimensions than we are used to counting. The plot relies on them; author M.J. Rose believes in them. Most of what she describes in ancient Rome actually did happen, in one way or another. This is no cynical publisher's knock-off.
I'm told THE REINCARNATIONIST is a major departure from M.J. Rose's previous books, which feature a sex therapist as detective. Somewhere in my tbr's I have THE DELILAH COMPLEX. I'm going to have to dig it out and read it to compare.
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