Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud by Julia Navarro

The Brotherhood of the Holy ShroudThis book's a mystery novel revolving around various factions' struggle for possession of the Shroud of Turin, what many claim to be the actual burial shroud of Jesus Christ, though the facts concerning it are far from conclusive and its authenticity widely disputed. The lack of clear provenance and the ambiguous results of scientific tests conducted on the cloth have fueled countless conspiracy theories- which makes excellent material for mystery novels.

In 2004 the cloth was radiocarbon dated to the 14th century, centuries after the historical Jesus' death. These test results have been disputed ever since, but Navarro's story here extrapolates from them and the resulting disputes, following both contemporary and historical timelines, and she eventually offers up a particularly clever twist to tie everything together.

In the book, as in the real world, the shroud is housed and periodically displayed at Turin Cathedral. Following another in a series of infrequent 'accidents' associated with its display (which seem to be entirely fictional), the head of the Art Crimes department of the Italian police becomes convinced a struggle to damage or steal the cloth has been playing out for decades- maybe longer- and determines to get to the bottom of things. Along the way, they pique the curiosity of an investigative reporter, whom I could only picture as Navarro herself, and who eventually becomes important to the plot development.

The main factions vying for the shroud in contemporary times are the Catholic church, the highly secret and powerful Knights Templar, and the fanatical 'Brotherhood' of the title, a fictional organization (referred to in the book only as 'the Community') descended from an early Christian community in the Turkish city Urfa, supposedly the shroud's original owners. In the historical timelines, Navarro adds various accurate political figures. The historical timelines begin earliest with the fictional brotherhood in Biblical times, eventually branching out into parallel lines with the different factions. I found the fictionalized historical figures and events some of the most interesting storytelling in the book. Some of these are explored 'in the moment', and others are explained by 'experts' in the course of investigations conducted by the Art Crimes team and reporter. Interestingly, the Vatican has recently announced that the Knights Templar hid the shroud for more than a century after the Crusades.

The book invites obvious comparisons to Dan Brown's (far superior) The Da Vinci Code, but it stands up on its own. Everything moves along quickly. Navarro's presupposition that the shroud is real lends an air of religious importance to the story, and she keeps things interesting while she peels the layers of the onion for us. I found myself at least as interested in the some of the historical characters as the contemporary ones- sometimes more so- but overall she managed a balance. It's a solid first effort. Not an incredibly long or particularly challenging book, it's definitely interesting, probably more so for those who, like me, are/were unacquainted with a lot of this history.

I read the Dell paperback version, and I remember no glaring editorial mistakes- always a pleasure.

I'll include some pictures of the shroud itself, in normal color on the left, and in negative, in which the image on the cloth shows up better, on the right. Click on the pictures to view them in full resolution (quite large).

The shroud displayed:

More info and reviews at amazon.com

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