Until death, anyway

Glancing at the title Friends Forever by Yank author Danielle Steel, who has been penning romantic fiction like forever, this reviewer realised that I wouldn't be able to identify with the story, the characters or the plot. Because while I've had friends in my life, they came and went, none lasting the course.

Friends Forever by Danielle Steel, 308 pp, 2012 Bantam paperback. Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops, 695 baht.

There were neighbourhood friends, elementary school friends, junior high school friends, high school friends, college friends, army friends, social work friends, backpacking friends, friends abroad, journalist friends. Truth be told we called one another friends, but for the most part we were little more than acquaintances.

They were men, women, lovers, intelligent, foolish, honest, liars, and those who offered a helping hand but withdrew it before it could be taken, I've long stopped thinking about them. Well, not all of them. A few I wonder about, even miss. An African-American woman in the US, a Japanese woman (both married), a Japanese Buddhist monk.

In Friends Forever five little children are enrolled in the same kindergarten in San Francisco. Though their parents have little in common, the author has us believe that the two girls and three boys become fast friends and remain The Big Five for the next 20 years.

Steel juggles their families' lives for us as, like their kids, they draw closer. One husband is a womaniser. One wife admits that she wholly lacks any feelings of motherhood. A civil liberties lawyer father is too busy helping the poor to give time to his family.

Kevin is the incorrigible boy who drinks and smokes ganja in his teens. He is the first to die, shot by a drug dealer. Gaby is next, an aspiring model. The drunk driver who ran her over goes to prison. Then Billy, the outstanding football rookie, overdosed. Andy, the soft-hearted medical intern, commits suicide when one of his patients dies.

Izzie becomes a kindergarten teacher herself (at the same school). She likes/loves/hates Sean, an FBI special agent working undercover in Colombia. Can she persuade him to switch to a safe 9-5 job closer to home? The author keeps us guessing until the penultimate chapter.

I don't know whether my old friends/acquaintances had bad endings. They may all still be alive. To the best of my recollection, they smoked _ I smoked a pipe _ and drank in moderation, nothing more.

With 100 books to her credit, Steel is still going strong.

The Blood Gospel by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell, 479 pp, 2013 Orion paperback. Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops, 695 baht

No message

Though fundamentalists don't doubt that every word in the Bible is true, a growing number of Christians _ Catholics and Protestants _ are expressing doubts. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament make statements open to interpretation. It comes down to belief. Centuries of science haven't come up with satisfactory alternatives.

In The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown struck a blow against Holy Mother Church by suggesting that Jesus didn't die on the cross and wasn't resurrected, but fled to France where He and his family lived out their lives. So successful was the novel that a plethora of authors got on the bandwagon, offering theories about those early days.

Generally they differ, yet more than a few agree on one point: As there were a dozen Apostles, isn't it likely that there were more than four Gospels? A few contradictions exist among the four. How many more would there be among the others?

If the novelists tell good enough stories, even people uninterested in religion will want to read them. What is more interesting than a good story told by a good storyteller? This reviewer is a freethinker and I enjoy the better written works _ historical and historical fiction _ in the field.

Alas, The Blood Gospel by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell isn't among them. We are informed on the title page that this story is fiction and nothing in the 479 pages that follow give us reason to think otherwise. The first false statement is that the Jews who committed suicide in revolt against Rome on Mount Masada in what is now Israel were Christians.

The authors have it that two millennia later an earthquake shook it apart, revealing hidden tunnels and chambers, a sarcophagus in one. Archaeologists pounce on the scene, one of them able to read the ancient languages. A coded message about a fifth Gospel leads them to Rome via Germany and Russia. Fearful of what it may reveal, Vatican prelates from the Pope on down mean to get to the Gospel first. It is guarded and many chapters occur in the catacombs below St Peter's tomb. The dead come to life to battle the searchers. Vampires are thrown in for good measure. Somebody evil, big surprise!, is after it, too.

When found, the Gospel gives off dazzling light. Disappointingly, the hype is for nought. The let-down is that its message is nothing worthwhile. No insights. No food for thought. If the book says anything, it is: Keep believing. It will make you feel better.

About the author

Writer: Bernard Trink
Position: Freelance Writer