Novels are supposedly fictional, imaginary. Similarities to persons and places are coincidental. Which is a legal way of saying: "Don't blame us" -- authors and publishers -- "for sticking it to actual people and/or places."
Brit scrivener Chris Ryan's Shadow Kill is a case in point. Ostensibly make-believe, it excoriates the African country of Sierra Leone in every way. Being a hell hole is the least of its faults. According to his chapters-long description, everything that can be wrong is.
Its single plus is its diamonds, which everybody near and far is trying to grab, not least the blood-thirsty revolutionaries. The populace is poverty-stricken -- men slaughtered, women raped, children kidnapped. The president fled with the treasury. The UN talks and passes resolutions, to no end.
Ryan leaves the worst till last. Paedophilia is prevalent there. We are introduced to Ronald Soanes early on -- a be-medalled army officer, formerly head of Regiment 22 SAS, Britain's finest Special Forces. Retired, he's in charge of the mercenaries guarding the diamond mines.
When a gang of Russians tries to muscle him out, Soanes kills one, with the others in pursuit. MI5 sends John Porter and John Ball, 22 alumni, to get him out. For hundreds of pages they have running battles with Russians and revolutionaries. Their most formidable foes are the children, trained as snipers.
But our would-be rescuers discover that the abducted children, most of them, have a background as victims of paedophiles. Alas, those who come to the country from abroad are pillars back home. And who organised the despicable business? None other than Soanes.
It remains for Porter, Ball and an MI5 lass to turn on Soanes and his crew, keeping in mind that several of their superiors have participated in the fun and games. The diamonds are forgotten by all but Ball. At the finish we are told that paedophile rings are to be found on every continent.
Other scribes have penned novels about this subject, but none so vivid as Shadow Kill. The reader is left in no doubt that there are a lot of kinky people out there. As for Sierra Leone, give it a wide berth.
The Templar Heresy by James Becker Bantam 412pp Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops 395 baht
The Templars and their hidden treasure: authors can't leave it alone. They are obsessed by it. Untold wealth. Where did they hide it? Didn't they leave any clues? Not very obliging of them if they didn't. Seven centuries ago. Hardly antiquity. Lots of archaeologists on the lookout. Searching. Ever searching.
Not to be outdone, novelists, quill in hand, hunt for it with their imaginations. (In their spare time, they are seeking Atlantis.) The curiosity of the public is raised. It might be in their back yards. He checks; it can't hurt to look. Just planting flowers, you understand.
Brit author James Becker's The Templar Heresy is the latest, far from last, in this burgeoning stockpile. Doing a bit more research than his fellows, he introduces a connection with an all-but-obscure faith, more sect than a religion, suggesting that the Templars might have had faith in it.
Though the Pope gave his imprimatur to the order of the Templars, he appears to have ignored that the Knights disavowed Jesus. For them, John the Baptist was the prophet they worshipped, Christ only a usurper. When the Romans decapitated John, his first-century followers made off with his head.
Becker contends that the Templars, digging below the Temple Mount in Jerusalem a millennium later, found both the treasure (Solomon's) and the sacred head, absconding with both. The greedy French King in 1307 imprisoned and tortured the Templars he could find, getting only a fraction of the treasure.
In this story, set in the present day, British Museum archaeologist Angela Lewis and her ex-husband Chris Bronson are the searchers, visiting temples in the Middle East and Europe. Taking leaves from In Search Of The Lost Ark and The Da Vinci Code, the authors have them followed by villains.
The baddies are an Iraqi archaeologist and Muslim freedom fighters. Bodies pile up. The penultimate-chapter climax takes in the Pyrenees. Suffice to say that Templar treasure hunters are still hunting.
Best is the analysis of religion in discussions among the characters. Contemporary historical fiction writers tend to focus on Ancient Rome and the Tudors. For Becker, it is early Christianity, in books such as The First Apostle and The Lost Testament. Give them a look-see.