Formats available: paperback, ebook, hardcover
Series: Antoince Marcas #2
Length: 270 pages
Publisher: Le French Book
Date Released: March 25, 2015
Purchasing Info: Authors’ Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
An electrifying thriller about the rise of extremism. Two slayings—one in Rome and one in Jerusalem—rekindle an ancient rivalry between modern-day secret societies for knowledge lost at the fall of the Third Reich. Detective Antoine Marcas unwillingly teams up with the strong-willed Jade Zewinski to chase Neo-Nazi assassins across Europe. They must unravel an arcane Freemason mystery, sparked by information from newly revealed KGB files. Inspired from the true story of mysterious Freemason files thought to hold a terrible secret, stolen by the SS in 1940, recovered by the Red Army in 1945 and returned half a century later.
This is the second book in the series featuring Antoine Marcas, and based on this entry in the series, I hope that the publisher gets the rest of the series translated tout de suite. Meaning, as fast as the translator Anne Trager can get them out.
Shadow Ritual is edge-of-the-seat thrilling, very much in the vein of The Da Vinci Code but with much better editing. The pace is taut, and the story, even the parts about rituals and history and the secret society background of this mess, moves along at a rapid clip.
Just enough to feel the horror (at the appropriate points), but not so long as to dwell on it.
The prologue takes place at the end of Nazi Germany. One young French SS officer, along with a cadre of fellow fanatics, is tasked with smuggling important papers out of Germany and setting himself up as a sleeper agent in a sympathetic country to wait until his masters need him again. His masters are not exactly the Nazis – but a philosophical splinter group called the Thule. Who manage, in their own evil, world-domination type ways, to be even worse than the Nazis.
Without the extra-terrestrial power boost, the Thule remind me a bit of Red Skull in the first Captain America movie. I know this is just slightly off topic, but the brands of megalomaniacal pure-Aryan BS feel surprisingly similar..
The story in Shadow Ritual moves to the 21st century, and a sudden string of ritual murders. The ritual murders are tied into Freemasonry, a subject that sets more than a few of the investigators as well as the perpetrators into absolute fits, but only the Thule actually foam at the mouth.
The string of murders imitates and corrupts a big piece of Masonic ritual. Someone is killing people, not just Freemasons but anyone connected with the secret being pursued, in a way that sends a calling card to any Masons who see the victims or read about the results.
Antoine Marcas, a detective in the Paris Police, is a Freemason with an interest in Masonic history and documents. When a Masonic researcher is killed at the French Embassy in Italy, Marcas is paired with a hard-boiled Embassy security officer who hates the Masonic Order and anything connected with it.
As partnerships go, this is not a happy one.
But Jade Zewinski’s Foreign Service bosses don’t all love the Masons either, so they are happy to have someone in charge of the investigation who will not report to the Order first. At the same time, they need Marcas because all the clues are steeped in Masonic ritual and don’t make much sense to anyone who is not intimately familiar with the Order.
Their uneasy but ultimately productive partnership unearths a trail of dead bodies – and puts them squarely in the sights of an underground society that blames the Masons, the Jews, and anyone they just plain don’t like for what they see as the suppression of the true World Order – one that puts the Nazi Thule back on top of empire – with everyone else crushed under their heel.
Starting with Marcas and Zewinski.
Escape Rating A: This is one of those books that just grabbed me. I loved the deep dive into unfamiliar history – especially because that exploration was encapsulated into a thriller that kept me enthralled up to the very end.
Part of what made this story work was the two protagonists. They don’t like each other at all. Zewinski is openly hostile about everything that Marcas believes in. And we don’t know why until the very end – just that she acts like a bitch at every turn.
At the same time, they definitely respect each other. Even though she often treats Marcas like dirt, she also respects his abilities as a detective. Likewise, even though Marcas is often infuriated by Zewinski’s attitude and hostility, he also respects her ability to get the job done. He sometimes questions whether she wants to leave him behind, or is hoping that he won’t measure up in some way, but there is certainly mutual respect.
They manage to rely on each other as partners even though they drive each other crazy.
Also, Zewinski is in some ways the stand-in for the audience. The history and mystery that is driving the action is deeply embedded in the Masonic rituals and history. Marcas knows those secrets intimately, and Zewinski has spent her life actively avoiding anything to do with Freemasonry. In order to them to solve the crimes together, he has to explain the mysteries to her, and that provides a logical way to explain them to us.
For most of us, Freemasonry is shrouded in secrets and legends, and it was fascinating to get a glimpse behind the curtain. Lots of stories have exploited this desire to find those secrets, including The Da Vinci Code and the movie National Treasure. Mixing the secrets of the Freemasons with their persecution by the Nazis makes for a chilling read.
Like The DaVinci Code, Shadow Ritual is the second book in the series featuring its code-breaking detective. Also like The DaVinci Code, you don’t need to have read the first book about Antoine Marcas to enjoy the second.
Not that I don’t want the first book. And the rest of the series. ASAP.