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 2 trowels

ELISHA'S BONES

By: Don Hoesel
Bethany House Publishers:  Bloomington, MN
2009 (PB)

Don Hoesel’s first published novel is a workman-like effort that presents the reader with an interesting plotline, tw sympathetic protagonists, and plenty of fast-paced action.  What is perhaps most intriguing is that he takes an obscure (and brief) Old Testament story and spins a contemporary adventure yarn that takes its hero, Jack Hawthorne, from archaeological sites in Egypt and Venezuela to an ancient religious site in Ethiopia to the novel’s denouement in the Australian outback.  Jack manages to leave in his wake a trail of death and destruction as he follows clues that might cast light on this Biblical puzzle. 

The story opens five years in the past when Jack is working as field director to Australian professor James Winfield’s excavation of the KV65 burial in the Valley of the Kings.  Jack and his crew are in the process of revealing the secrets shut away in the sarcophagus bearing Coptic inscriptions that allude to “bones of the holy man,” when the dig is abruptly shut down by the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities.  Literally within minutes of the project closure, an excavated trench collapses, burying several crew and killing Jack’s brother Will-- a tragedy that Jack believes was no accident. 

Five years later, a dejected and still-despondant Jack Hawthorne has left archaeological field work for the more mundane and desultory life of a college lecturer at Evanston University in Ellen, North Carolina.  He has resigned himself to a solitary semester break as Christmas approaches, when Texas billionaire Gordon Reese offers him a most interesting “business proposition.”  Reese, a terminally ill dying man, tells Jack of the story, recorded in Second Kings of the Old Testament, of the death of the prophet Elisha and how the approach of Moabite bandits caused a group of Israelites burying another man to toss the corpse into Elisha’s grave as they fled.  When the body touched the bones of Elisha, the corpse came to life and stood up.   Reese believes, to the core of his being, that the story is true and that if Jack can find the remains of Elisha, they will cure him of his disease.  Reese has conducted research on his own that hints broadly of a closely guarded conspiracy of families and groups that have passed the bones on down through the millennia.  The trail has led to the New World and a shadowy guild called the Fraternidad de la Tierra—the Brotherhood of Dirt.  Jack accepts the challenge and follows Reese’s research to Venezuela, where he collaborates with an old friend and dealer in antiquities, Romero Habilla, and his brilliant sister—and Jack’s former fiancée, Esperanza. 

The relationship between Jack and Esperanza—Espy, for short—is turbulent, to say the least, but the quest for this ancient and mystical artifact convinces both of them that they must cooperate and at least treat each other civilly.  Together they discover more clues to the whereabouts of the peripatetic remains as they explore proto-Mayan ruins in the jungles of Venezuela—a great distance south of the traditional Maya land.   The pyramidal structure amazingly displays glyphs that include references to the Brotherhood and Lalibela, the second most holy city in Ethiopia—all in Coptic!  In essence, Jack and Espy have discovered a Mayan-style pyramid built by Egyptians, pointing towards Ethiopia, in the middle of a South American jungle! 

What follows is a harrowing race across continents as the search for the bones continues unabated, with betrayal and death seeming to lie in wait for the two former lovers around every corner.  There are also tantalizing hints at religious and spiritual awakening in both Jack and Espy that could have been more fully developed and would have made the story more satisfying.   

Given the innovative premise of the adventure—the quest for the prophet’s life-sustaining bones, the quirky and often endearing natures of Jack and Espy, and the cliff-hanger episodes of derring do, I would ordinarily be ready to give this delightful escapist adventure three trowels; but there are weaknesses in the author’s prose style that hopefully will be addressed in his future efforts.  I found that some of the linkages in clues that led Jack and Espy onward towards the eventual discovery of Elisha’s bones were often vague, cryptic and obscure.  But I could live with that and have often been willing to overlook such lapses in other books in this adventure genre.  What I found less forgivable were long and often not very revealing internal dialogues by Jack.  Similarly, while I will always enjoy a well-conceived metaphor or simile, I would prefer an author to avoid those that don’t do the job.  I will give two brief examples from p. 253:  “…apprehension fills my stomach like a solid ball of undigested cheese.” And

There’s that moment between sleep and wakefulness—when one’s unconscious mind is feeding stimuli rapid-fire to the part of you fighting off cobwebs, when everything takes on added poignancy.

Two trowels for this nonetheless entertaining adventure yarn.

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*MVAC Educational Programs are supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in these programs do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
*This project was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation.  Opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation.