Book Reviews

Review Rating

With the October 2004 review, we began rating the books on the basis of one to four trowels; 
one trowel= don’t bother, to four trowels= run right out to your local book store and buy the hard cover!

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The Atlantis Code by Charles Brokaw

Reviewed on: July 1, 2010


Forge Books: New York
2009 (HC)

I looked forward with great anticipation to reading (after buying) Charles Brokaw’s The Atlantis Code. The dustcover flap synopsis promised an exciting archaeological adventure with a new hero that promised to be a combination of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon and Indiana Jones. The intrepid hero is Thomas Lourds, an Oxford-trained world-class linguist and archaeologist who teaches at Harvard; how can you beat a pedigree like that?

While in Alexandria, Egypt, to film a documentary for the BBC-affiliated television program, Ancient World, Ancient People—which is to be hosted by the luscious and decidedly available Ms. Leslie Crane—he is introduced to an ancient artifact –a bell—that is inscribed in a language even Professor Lourds can’t decipher! This begins a tense and dangerous chase to far-flung outposts, including Ryazan City, Russia; Leipzig, Germany; Dakar, Senegal in West Africa; and finally to Cadiz, Spain, where an archaeological excavation conducted by the Vatican may be uncovering the fabled lost city of Atlantis—all in the quest of five musical instruments that promise to unlock the secret of ancient secrets lost to man in the mists of time. Adding to the dangers that Lourds and his little group of tomb raiders must face is a cadre of assassins under the direction of a secret order within the Roman Catholic Church and a fiendish villain named Cardinal Stefano Murani.

These are the ingredients for the escapist reading I like best: dauntless archaeologist, arcane ancient secrets, Vatican conspiracies (but with a kindly, saint-like Pope), and manic globetrotting! But The Atlantis Code has disappointed me more than any such adventure yarn I’ve read in many years. It is not a well-written novel and was badly in need of some editing—but I’ve liked badly-written thrillers in the past. Its plot was preposterous – as it sought to link Atlantis with the Garden of Eden and the Tower of Babel and the Deluge and a second Son of God on Earth that preceded Jesus Christ—but I’ve enjoyed preposterous plots for decades! The major characters were two-dimensional at best and not very engaging, but I’ve put up with that before, too. So why am I feeling such disappointment in this novel, which is, admittedly, a first effort by the psedonymed Charles Brokaw? I think it’s because the promise and premise were so tantalizing—and while Atlantis is certainly not a new subject for adventure fiction, it’s almost always exciting and satisfying—this particular effort fell flat. But perhaps more critical was the disappointment I experienced in reading about the protagonist, Thomas Lourds. I’m not certain I’ve ever liked an adventure thriller when I didn’t like the hero. I could forgive marginal writing, ill-conceived plots and even cardboard characters, but I had to like the hero! In this case, Thomas Lourds is necessarily handsome and dashing, but he is also arrogant, pedantic, and totally self-absorbed. There is some adult sex in the novel, and while I’ve never had a problem with that—especially when it is seamlessly woven into the plot or gives the reader additional insight into the psyches of major characters—in this case the episodes seemed gratuitous and hopelessly mired in some mid-1960s version of the “Playboy Advisor.” Let us just say that sensitivity towards women is not one of Thomas Lourds’ strong points!

And if I was concerned about being unduly harsh toward the author’s initial fictional effort, I suspended that concern when near the end of the book (p. 408), I read the following sentence: “The cave came alive with the sound of music.” ! (exclamation mark, mine).

Having said all this, I will begrudgingly admit that I’m looking forward to the second Thomas Lourds’ novel—due out in late 2010—entitled The Lucifer Code, in which I hope author Brokaw will be blessed with a better editor, a tighter plotline, and a more enlightened and engaging hero!

One trowel for The Atlantis Code.

Twenty Years in the Trenches: Archaeology in Fiction

William Gresens, longtime MVAC supporter and volunteer, has been writing reviews of archaeological fiction as MVAC’s book reviewer for twenty years.  In this interview Bill shares how he got started writing reviews for MVAC, how the genre has changed, highlights, and his thoughts looking forward. 

Bill Gresen’s Book Review 20th Anniversary

While Bill's reviews go back 20 years now, his relationship with MVAC goes back more than twice that long! The reviews capture some of the things we enjoy most about Bill-- he's perceptive, methodical, a clear thinker, and a whole lot of fun! We look forward to this relationship--and Bill's reviews!--continuing for many years to come.

The March 2021 review marks the 20th anniversary of reviews of archaeological fiction.  It has been my pleasure and great fun to while away the hours reading these books—for the most part, at least—and writing the reviews!  My thanks to MVAC allowing me to prattle on and I look forward to the years ahead.

Bill Gresens