Raymond Khoury’s “The Last Templar” (2006) is part of a deluge of novels and nonfiction to step outside mainstream history to explore the real, prospective and imagined secrets about alchemy, the Knights Templar, and the origins of Christianity.
One cannot help but think of Katherine Neville’s “The Eight” (1997) which focused on present-day people fighting over and/or guarding the secrets of the Philosopher’s Stone and Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” (2003) which speculated about the true meaning of the Holy Grail and the bloodline of Christ. Many of Neville’s, Brown’s and Khoury’s fans were also attracted to such nonfiction as “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” (Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, 1982) and Lynn Picknett’s “The Templar Revelation” (1997).
It is difficult to read, much less discuss, Neville, Brown and Khoury without acknowledging the fact that fact that they are part of a rather unique genre of spiritual conspiracy fiction that seemed to fill a need in the public psyche for truths thought to be missing from the tenets of Catholic and Protestant theology.
Neville’s “The Eight” was, perhaps, the first to popularize this “genre’s” style and focus: hidden wisdom, long-time conspiracies, compelling present-day mystery/thriller action, and numerous (and lengthy) history lessons. Since her focus was alchemy, Neville’s “The Eight” didn’t ignite the kind of controversy generated by Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” which, some might say, hit us where we lived if not where we worshipped.
Like Neville, Khoury tells his story with a modern-day and a historical timeline. “The Last Templar” begins with what Booklist called “one of the most gripping opening scenes among recent thrillers.” Four horsemen dressed in Knights Templar regalia steal artifacts from a Metropolitan Museum of Art show of Vatican treasures, including a “decoder.” The other story line focuses on the last days of the Knights Templar as the Holy Land is “lost” with the fall of Acre in 1291 and the subsequent pilgrimage of a few surviving knights to safeguard the Templars’ treasure.
Publisher’s Weekly was less kind than Booklist, saying that the “war between the Catholic Church and the Gnostic insurgency drags on in this ponderous ‘Da Vinci Code’ knockoff.” Many readers criticized Dan Brown in “The Da Vinci Code” for constantly stopping the otherwise full-speed action of the book while one character filled in another character about the secrets of Mary Magdalene, the Grail, the actions of the Catholic Church, and Jesus’ bloodline.
In my view, “The Last Templar” carries such backstory diversions to an extreme. Picture, if you will, whether it’s plausible that FBI operatives investigating the raid on the museum, the stolen treasurers, and the continuing deaths would spend hours discussing Templar history in great detail.
The greatest fault with “The Eight,” “The Da Vinci Code,” and “The Last Templar,” is the fact that some characters must provide other characters with long-winded and unrealistic diversions into history, philosophy and theology because general readers are not likely to know the facts and the latest theories involved. The authors have felt that without these history lessons, the plots wouldn’t make sense.
I liked “The Last Templar” better than Publisher’s Weekly, but not as much as Booklist. The history was interesting, though I’d seen it all before. The plot was imaginative and included some page-turner action scenes involving the church, the thieves, the FBI and protagonist Tess Chaykin, an archeologist who witnesses the raid. The ending, while not wholly unreasonable was, I think, unsatisfactory, especially for those readers who not only want to know what the Templars’ secret but are angry that a real or a fictionalized church would deem it necessary to suppress the truth at all costs.
The romantic feelings between Tess and the head FBI agent add a variety of complications to the story, some of which lead into exciting action scenes even though the relationship within the book is rather forced and tedious.
For readers who have enjoyed the fiction and nonfiction in this wave of spiritual conspiracy books, “The Last Templar” is interesting escapist reading even though those who have seen it all before may speed-read through some of the Templar history.