I picked up several tasty noms during the Labor Day Indie Book Blowout. Two of them were written by an author that I've been meaning to check out for some time, one Carolyn McCray. I had heard good buzz about 30 Pieces of Silver, but Fated was strictly an impulse buy. It soon became clear why I had heard of one but not the other; McCray is a competent paranormal romance writer, but it's in thrillers that she shines.
Fated: It's Rome in the year 42 CE. Marcus Brutus is a Roman senator. (Yes, he's that Marcus Brutus.) Syrah is a tribeswoman from the area now known as Scotland, taken as a prisoner of war and sold as a slave. The two of them meet, sparks fly, and they are soon drawn into the political intrigue surrounding Julius Caesar's assassination and the realization that they are fated lovers destined to be reincarnated again and again at critical moments throughout history. It's quick and engaging, with a nice aura of mystery surrounding the reincarnation angle. McCray states in her author's notes that she set out with the intent of redeeming or at last layering one of history's major villains, but I honestly would have liked to see a little more bite to Brutus, even if he was being influenced by past-life knowledge. (The recent movie version of Rosemary Sutcliff's The Eagle of the Ninth didn't get a lot of love from critics or moviegoers, but my favorite part was how willing everyone was to let Marcus be a dick, even if he wasn't a historical character on anywhere near the scope of Brutus. Romans were Not Nice People, y'all.) The book also could have used a stronger history editor, especially with regard to Syrah.
30 Pieces of Silver: Okay, I'm not even going to try to front: this book was spectacular. It jumps from the years leading up to the Crucifixion to the present day and back again, with action happening at several different locations across the globe. Rebecca Monroe is a geneticist and historian looking for the "smart gene" that she thinks is a mutation responsible for every major leap forward in human history. Sgt. Brandt and an elite team of military operatives extract her from her research deep within the Ecuadorian jungle with bad news: there's been an explosion in Paris which has revealed the hidden skeleton of John the Baptist, and Monroe's former mentor is using it as one of many clues leading him to the actual body of Christ. (Which, if found, would disprove his Resurrection and thus divinity and unleash a whole hell of a lot of religious conflict worldwide.) What follows is a mad dash about the world as Monroe, Brandt, and Co. attempt to find the skeleton themselves before a crazed cult can kill them all. Oh, and they might have a traitor in their midst, Monroe and Brandt have simmering sexual chemistry (that they deal with like grown-ups and then get on with things, my favorite kind), and Brandt is a devout Catholic with major reservations about what they're doing and what it might reveal. "Don't drop F-bombs on the internet" is about the only rule of professionalism that I hold myself to, and not even particularly consistently, but I was cursing like a millworker when I hit the final twist of this book. Very fun, and I am definitely going to check out Plain Jane now. The comparisons to Dan Brown are going to be obvious, but I don't like Dan Brown, and I loved this.