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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Keepers of the Lost Ark by J. Robert Kennedy

Reviewed on: June 1, 2021


2019 (PB) 

Father Abune Amanuel, a priest in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, leaves his native land for the first time, flies to the United States, and desperately seeks the aid of acclaimed archaeologists, James Acton and his British-born wife, Laura Palmer. 

Lost in the mists of time, a fabulous treasure of ancient Israel had been transported from Solomonic Jerusalem to the Kingdom of Aksum, a region in modern-day Ethiopia.  The treasure was, of course, the Ark of the Covenant, the fabled chest containing, among other items, the Ten Commandments, borne by the Children of Israel as they weaved their way to the Promised Land.   According to legend, the Ark was brought surreptitiously to Aksum by Menelik, the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, and must remain a secret until the Second Coming of Christ and the End Times.  That secret is to be guarded by an ancient brotherhood of priests—the “Keepers”-- of whom Father Amanuel is the most recent leader.  An equally ancient secretive parallel cabal, the Sons of Tamrin, had been established to assure the security of the Ark, and if the Keepers failed in their sacred duty, the Sons of Tamrin were to kill the outsiders, or, failing that, to destroy the Ark to assure the Second Coming.

Father Amanuel now sought the help of Acton and Palmer because the Ark was physically deteriorating and they were believed to have the combined expertise to salvage it—although they could well require them to not only see the Ark (which was proscribed by Ark lore) but to touch it, which was definitely forbidden.

The intrepid couple agree to undertake the preservation project, gather the materials they would need for preservation of the Ark, and fly to Ethiopia to salvage an incredibly significant artifact that for most people was simply the subject of a Steven Spielberg movie.  Little do they realize that a rogue member of the Sons of Tamrin has made the existence of the Ark known on the Dark Web and was offering its location to the highest bidder.  Russian gangsters, corrupt Ethiopian cops and ISIS terrorists converge on the ancient Ethiopian church that hides the Ark, along with Acton and Laura.  But the FBI and CIA have hacked into the Dark Web communications and have alerted the President, who in turn sends a Delta Force team to Ethiopia to rescue Acton and Laura, and to confiscate the Ark for the U.S., or failing that, to destroy it!  Needless to say this is not a good situation for Acton, Laura or the Ark!

The premise of this action-filled thriller has promise, but unfortunately early on descends into foolishness.  The banter, often of a sexual nature, that most of the characters, including Acton and Laura, various CIA and FBI agents, as well as the cartoonish Delta Force soldiers, is juvenile and almost always ill-timed for the supposed seriousness of the situation.  There is little evidence that Acton and Laura are acclaimed archaeologists other than the author says they are.  Perhaps most jarringly, as Acton is about to rescue one of the most significant artifacts in history, he goes an extended riff bemoaning political divisions in America, multiculturalism and the internet!

Keepers of the Lost Ark is the 24th novel in the James Acton series; I don’t believe I will read any of the other 23.  One trowel for this non-keeper.

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