Turin Shroud

The Turin Shroud Secret, by Sam Christer

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Contains some spoilers.

Considering that just about every other historical and religious icon has been plundered by some post-Dan Brown conspiracy thriller in the last decade, it’s surprised me that seemingly no one has hitherto used the Turin Shroud as the basis for a book. Despite the 1988 carbon dating test that showed it originated from the Middle Ages, the shroud still seems like it should be fruitful conspiracy ground. So when I saw this latest book by the author of the successful The Stonehenge Legacy I was curious to know what he’d made of it.

The answer is: not a lot. The subject appears to have defeated him, and in truth only about a third of this book is in any way connected to the relic purported to be the burial shroud in which Christ was laid to rest in his tomb on Good Friday, and which was found – discarded, body no where in sight – just days later on Easter Sunday. The shroud relic stored today by the Catholic church in Turin carries a remarkably striking and authentic-looking life-size imprint of a crucified male, which to this date no one has quite been able to satisfactorily explain how it was achieved.

The book skims over this and some of the basic evidence of the shroud, but seems to quickly run out of material and not be interested in telling any of the deeper, more interesting historical side of the mythology. The Turin Shroud Secret also provides a new “controversial” explanation for the shroud’s existence, just not one that I’m sure holds much water and which will mean very little to the world in general not au fait with later religious history such as the Crusades. This new theory is also rather dryly delivered in the form of a screenplay literally handed over to the investigating officer, just one of many uninspired plotting disappointments to be found in this novel. (And the screenplay is a text book example of the sort of thing that would get laughed out of Hollywood if submitted by a real writer – it makes all sorts of classic mistakes about the form and format of such scripts.)

The majority of the book is divided into two ultimately unconnected cases: one is an LA serial killer who – coincidentally but entirely unrelated – wraps his victims tightly in a shroud after killing them. This is mostly told from the killer’s point of view, and meanders along until (spoiler!) he simply walks into the police station and gives himself up before they catch him. That’s it.

The second case is sparked by the Turin Shroud and revolves around some scientific test evidence that’s never properly developed beyond being a McGuffin, an excuse for a cross-Europe and ultimately transatlantic chase between a second LA cop protagonist and an implacable religion-motivated assassin. This is more successful, better paced, eventful and well told and has a better resolution, but still ultimately feels unsatisfying since the protagonist mostly fails on every count of his mission and the antagonist is left too blank.

A final storyline about domestic violence is also present – too hefty to be mere character development, but too short (and again, feeling unresolved – it just gets forgotten about halfway through) to be a full sub-plot in its own right. It’s a shame, because this is one of the better-told, involving and more original aspects of the novel.

In an attempt to make a coherent novel out of these strands, the author shreds them into tiny strips and then intertwines them via a fast-cutting format of micro-chapters that typically last only five or six pages on average before switching to another thread. It’s a Dan Brown trick to produce a page-turning sense of pace, and it once again works pretty well here in keeping you eager to know what happens next. This momentum sees you through to the end, although the ADHD shredding still never manages to bind the book into one whole entity.

It’s a perfectly fine, readable book; one that you’ll get through quickly and then put aside and never really think of again. There’s a lot worse out there, and Christer is certainly a good writer when it comes to the prose itself. But on the evidence of The Turin Shroud Secret, he really needs to brush up on his plotting and structure and have a story worth telling as a whole before sitting down at the keyboard next time around.