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Bombs & Believers - Ken Sonenclar “What separates us from the animals, what separates us from the chaos, is our ability to mourn people we’ve never met.”
― David Levithan

Any act of terrorism is now a world event, satellite beamed television, radio, newspapers, and Twitter all insure that a large number of people are informed about an event within moments of it happening. An act of terror is known as fast as a teenager can thumb type 140 characters or a journalist techy can type a sentence message to their email blast feed or a soccer mom can update her facebook status. The series of terrorist attacks that have happened in recent years are not just acts against a government or a religion or a way of life, but against all humanity. The terror is now impossible to contain to one group of people, but elicits a chain of world wide empathy that makes us all feel the shock and the fear from an attack in Boston, New Delhi, Cairo, London or Baghdad. A small minority of angry, disassociated people that are cheering the results has for a moment managed to manipulate the emotions of a world.

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The clues must be deciphered from the mosaics.

This novel begins with a bombing in Istanbul,Turkey that kills hundreds of American sailors that for me was reminiscent of the Beirut Barracks Bombings back in 1983. An old church is destroyed in the explosion and within the crumbling structure ancient mosaics are exposed. Linus Hart Crane, famed archeologist, sees the key to a millennium old mystery in those mosaics and as he is preparing to give a lecture on his findings in London is dispassionately gunned down.

Enter our villain.

Bulent Ozbek, Turkish royalty, famed collector of artifacts is the brother to the Prime Minister of Turkey. He is everything you want in a villain, smart, ruthless, and absolutely deluded in his grand vision of himself.

Enter our hero.

Zander Blake, head of the Art Thief Division of the LAPD is on his way to London to give a speech to the same people that Linus Hart Crane was preparing to address. He was friends with Crane and soon finds himself caught up in events. He has a cool job.
”People imagined the Art Theft Detail only traced stolen Renoirs and raided studios churning out bogus Jackson Pollocks. But the masterpieces--the cases that made the papers-were rare, by definition. Zander spent most days on things as likely to turn up at estate sales as museums: Disneyland posters, Gold Rush photos, Bullwinkle animations, Hemingway First editions, Gary Cooper autographs, Prussian coins, Victorian ball gowns. And even the paintings were rarely Old Masters. His favorite open case involved half-a-dozen missing Red Skeltons, mostly sad-faced clowns that the sad-faced comic had dashed off in the 1960s. They looked Zander about as artistic as poker playing dogs, though he knew no one was paying him for his opinion. And whether you called these things art or collectibles or garbage, as he often did, more and more people were buying them, and more and more people were stealing them or forging them. With the murder rate down and art theft was skyrocketing.”

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Screenshot of a piece of stolen art work currently being sought by the LAPD Art Thief Division.

That is a job that would be fascinating to me.

Zander often finds himself working with criminals of the white collar variety. People with specific knowledge of how artifacts are forged, fenced, and stolen. One such man is Henry Demarest who despite his rehabilitation, just like any addict, soon finds himself unable to resist an opportunity to sell a child mummy artifact to Bulent Ozbeck. This turns out to be the perfect occasion for the hero and the villain to meet.

Helen Vandemeer works for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. She has been in trouble before for buying dodgy pieces with uncertain origins. She “seduces’ Ozbeck in an attempt to convince him to allow his collection to be shown at the MET.

Penny Theobald is an ex-student of Linus Hart Crane who is fed up with the academic world, but uncertain what she will do instead. She is key to the investigation because of her connection to Crane and her specialized knowledge in this field of research.

Felix Maurer, is a CIA operator working in Turkey. He is helping the Zander team, but also passing back information to Ozbeck knowing that if he doesn’t keep Ozbeck happy he will eventually find himself expelled from the country. He is working both ends against the middle.

Ken Sonenclar has set up a situation where people are having to work together to solve a mystery, but are incapable of trusting each other. They find themselves flung from London to Istanbul to Iznik trying to solve the mystery of the mosaics and stay one step ahead of the brutality and greed of Ozbeck. The mysterious mosaics holds the clues to the disappearance of the Athena Parthenos last seen in Constantinople in the 10th century.

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Athena Parthenos

The ancient historian Pausanias gave a description of the statue:
...The statue itself is made of ivory, silver and gold. On the middle of her helmet is placed a likeness of the Sphinx ... and on either side of the helmet are griffins in relief. ... The statue of Athena is upright, with a tunic reaching to the feet, and on her breast the head of Medusa is worked in ivory. She holds a statue of Victory about four cubits high, and in the other hand a spear; at her feet lies a shield and near the spear is a serpent. This serpent would be Erichthonius. On the pedestal is the birth of Pandora in relief.
Bombs and Believers is certainly a page turner. The cover is really well done. In fact it won awards for design and I can see why. The twist of the plot, resolving an ancient mystery, is reminiscent of Dan Brown and other well paid thriller writers. It wouldn’t be surprising to me to see Ken Sonenclar’s books in the near future on every airport book rack around the world. Sometimes we all just need that escapism only a thriller can provide.