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Bethlehem Boys, by Jeffrey Briskin

Discussion in 'Book Reviews' started by Juleeming, Apr 5, 2019.

  1. Juleeming

    Juleeming New Member

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    Here's an interesting premise for a crime novel: Who stole the gifts of the magi?

    That's the premise of Bethlehem Boys, a gripping crime novel set in the early days of Jesus of Nazareth that masterfully mixes humor, memorable characters and razor-sharp pacing while always remaining respectful of historical and biblical traditions.

    Set in the first month of the life of Jesus, it starts as a typical procedural. Senior Constable Gidon of the Bethlehem Watch is awoken in the middle of the night to investigate the theft of the three chests of treasures three scholars gave to the new born son (who they believe is the messiah) of a family of visiting Nazarenes staying in a barn behind an inn.

    Of course, any novel set in the time of the Gospels couldn't be a simple mystery novel right? No, over time the investigation expands to encompass the killing of witness, the appearance of a competing baby messiah, and all kinds of intrigues and conspiracies.

    As a semi-lapsed Christian, I liked reading "speculative Biblical fiction" especially if it doesn't take everything too seriously. For example, I loved Christopher Moore's Lamb, a wonderful retelling of the life of Jesus that was both hilarious and touching at the same time.

    In the novel, the divinity of the baby Jesus is taken nearly at face value, although some of his miracles don't necessarily reflect the idea of Jesus as the Prince of Peace.

    But the story is not strictly about Jesus. It's about Constable Gidon's investigation. This is a definitely a police procedural type story, where clues are revealed through interview and searches. Gidon is kind of a cross between Robert Parker's Spenser and Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder (although Gidon is not a boozer). He's fiercely independent, doesn't put up with interference from his higher ups, and isn't afraid of "bending the laws to the breaking point" when required. He has to be like this, since his informants are criminal overlords, whores and other sinners.

    The book is primarily told from a Jewish point of view, which makes sense, given its setting. You learn a lot about what Judea was like during the times when it was controlled by the Romans, and how oppression created an atmosphere that was ripe for the appearances of messiahs.

    My only minor quibble with the book (and I read the Kindle version) is that the author uses transliterated Hebrew and Latin names for most of the characters and places (for example, Jesus is named Yeshua, and Judea is called Yehud) and uses footnotes to provide the more common translations. It can get a bit distracting when there are four or five of these in a row. Fortunately with Kindle you can click them open and closed. Not sure how this works in the printed version (hopefully not endnotes!).

    The book is available only on Amazon at the moment. Normally I don't buy Kindle versions but it was a lot cheaper than the paperback version. Both versions have the same cover art, which, after reading it, perfectly symbolizes the themes and atmosphere.
     

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