Saturday, April 14, 2007

Book Review: Fish of Souls

It’s September 1999. Curt Lockes has recently purchased a tantalizing 400-year-old manuscript on e-bay. On the morning after Curt is shaken by a horrifying nightmare, Scott Seymour spies a bizarre cloud on the horizon. Following the clues divulged in the manuscript, Curt and Scott set out to uncover its secrets, as well as the meanings of the nightmare and the cloud. They will soon learn that the ultimate secret connecting all of these things is rooted in the Old Testament book of Genesis.

As Curt and Scott set out on their quest they visit some of Florida’s enticing historical venues: the Castillo de San Marcos, Fort Caroline and Fort Matanzas. Their exploration of these sites is enriched by the manuscript’s revelations and their discovery of an odd skeleton. But the skeleton’s secrets are deadly. When a friend is brutally murdered, Curt and Scott realize that sinister events are unfolding, events they must forestall if they are going to save their own, and hundreds of other, lives. To make matters worse, time is running out quickly because a hurricane is bearing down on the east coast of Florida. As family and friends evacuate the region, Scott and Curt stay behind to rid the world of the skeleton and its malicious effects.

Their adventure strains Scott’s family life but strengthens his friendship with Curt. It includes deadly encounters with sword-yielding Huguenots, a ferocious fish, and a vindictive Timucua Indian. It includes the loss of friends and the initiation of new relationships (including a love interest for Curt). And, no surprise here, it results in the dramatic triumph of good over evil.

Gary Williams, a native of Florida, has skillfully woven together disparate threads from St. Augustine’s history, biblical archaeology and contemporary hurricane tracking and evacuation procedures into a compelling suspense novel. The book’s primary weakness is that it should have been more carefully edited. There are a few (but not many) errors in grammar and word selection that should have been corrected before the book went to press. On the other hand, the book has several strong points. Williams writes graphically yet avoids gore. He provides historical and scholarly information yet avoids slipping into the styles of either a textbook or tourist brochure. His characters are flawed but likeable; in other words, they’re like real people. He discusses religious ideas yet avoids being either preachy or disdainful; in other words, he displays respect for religion without descending into fanaticism. Overall, these strengths far outweigh the editorial weakness and I found it hard to put the book down until I reached the final page. This book is the first in a series and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel. Readers who enjoy suspense stories laced with history will enjoy this book.

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