So this flashback chapter is a bit odd—it doesn’t have anything to do with our old pal, Daniel, and instead recounts the events in the lesser-known (to me, anyway) book of I Samuel. If you’d like to know what it’s all about, you can check out I Samuel 4, but it’s about the Israelites and Philistines going to war near the town of Ebenezer…
…and the Philistines trucking the Ark of the Covenant hither and yon to bring them luck. Now, I’m not saying that every story has to be as recognizable as Noah’s Ark or Daniel in the lions’ den or even the Handwriting on the Wall, but honestly…does anyone, even the most loyal of RTC readers, care about this story. I listen to Christian radio a fair amount, and I have never heard mention of this stuff.
But in the hands of a master storyteller like Phillips, I’m sure it will all become clear.
Phillips takes over four and a half pages to tell us a little story about Talon breaking into the Parchments of Freedom Foundation, killing three guards, and stealing the tail end of the bronze serpent that Murphy and Isis found. They are four and a half incredibly boring pages that don’t tell us anything we don’t already know. We don’t even get a real character glimpse of the doomed guards, especially since they never even see Talon or his falcons coming.
Anyway, Isis calls Murphy the next morning, and tells him what happened.
“One [guard] was killed in the parking lot. It was terrible. His throat and neck had been ripped to pieces. The coroner said it looked like some animal had done it. He even found some feathers around the body.”
“It sounds like the work of Talon. He uses his pet falcons to do his dirty work for him. That’s where he got his name.”
“Yes, dear, and you might remember him from those three times he tried to kill you and that other time he ambushed us on that boat and I used you as bait.”
But Isis is not a multi-degreed polyglot who once single-handedly rescued a little girl from a gang of kidnappers in a sewer…she is just A Girl, so it makes sense that Murphy would have to explain to her, in BOOK FOUR, who the primary villain is.
Murphy’s heart hurt to think that Talon could kill Isis like he did Laura. He knew that would be unbearable.
Yeah, probably to Isis, too. Since she would be the one who was murdered.
Which brings up a point I have made multiple times in the past: Murphy and Isis are people who it would probably be easy for a mass murderer to kill if he wanted to. Murphy, especially, isn’t at a job that features security guards in the same building as him all the time, so I might be tempted, were I them, to conclude that if I am still alive, it is because Talon wants it that way.
But Murphy, protective pretend-boyfriend that he is, sagely urges Isis to not “take any chances.” Gee, thanks, Murph, wouldn’t have thought of that without you!
(Okay, in all fairness, he also tells her not to go out alone, to carry her phone all the time, and to invest in a weapon. Though in all all fairness, if I was Isis and had been almost killed thrice by a serial killer, I would probably have done all these things long ago.)
And this silly little chapter concludes with the information that Murphy is now feeling “uneasy.” Because his feelings about Isis being possibly in danger are far more important than Isis’s feelings about possibly being in danger.
As you might remember, Levi Abrams got back in touch with Murphy after being shot and subsequently disappearing. So now Murphy is meeting Levi for the first time in months at the “Out West Steak House“…
Seriously, Phillips. SERIOUSLY???
Dude, you are not even trying anymore. If you ever did.
So Murphy meets Levi at the
Outback Steakhouse Out West Steak House, and despite the huge lawsuit that must no doubt be ripping the place apart, they sit down to a peaceful dinner of discussing terrorists and shootings.
Since Levi can’t remember anything about the encounter from the end of The Europa Conspiracy, Phillips gets a chance to recount the entire thing.
The only thing Levi really knows is that Murphy saved his life.
“You know what that means? According to Asian tradition, you now become my servant for the rest of your life.”
Asian tradition? SERIOUSLY, NOW?
I think Phillips is confusing “Asian tradition” with the Wookie life debt.
Anyway, the only new stuff we learn is that Murphy successfully crawled out of whatever with Levi, and found firefighters who in turn called an ambulance and got the two idiots to a hospital. There, Murphy was taken off and questioned by the Mossad, and by the time he got back to Levi, he was gone.
Which, to be perfectly fair, does absolve Murphy from failing to find and get in touch with Levi until now. Though, to be perfectly fair, the way Phillips wrote it did make it seem like Murphy had just blown him off.
So Levi was carted off to “a special hospital that very few people in Israel know about.” It was so special, in fact, that he couldn’t communicate with anyone while he was there. Sometimes I think Phillips forgets that Greg Dinallo told us that Levi had a wife and kid in Babylon Rising, because there is no mention of them here, nor mention from Murphy about getting in touch with them to find out about Levi and/or tell them what he knew. Anyway, we actually get some information on timeline stuff here: after Levi “recovered” in the “special hospital,” he was sent to a safe house in South America, “where I remained out of circulation for about sixty days until things quieted down.” And he is just now back.
So it’s been well over two months since the events in The Europa Conspiracy, which means it has been that long since Murphy has seen or spoken to Isis, the woman he professes to love. Nice guy.
And just as with Isis, Murphy can barely recount to Levi the events that Levi can’t remember before he gets to the important stuff: what Murphy wants.
And what Murphy wants is for Levi to check that fingerprint of Meth’s for him, since the FBI came up empty. Which, of course, he agrees to do, since the Mossad has “access to lots of fingerprints.” And because nobody can say “no” to Michael Murphy.
Especially when they owe him their Wookie life debt.
It’s kind of funny to recycle titles like Back with Shane…but almost sad in a way, since this is the last time we’ll be Back with Shane, since this is the last book.
And DAMN but Phillips is lazy. After being re-introduced to Shane’s driver, Eugene, Phillips just gives us a flashback to Shane learning that Stephanie has been killed.
So he knows The Seven (They’ll Stop at Nothing!) are the ones who had Stephanie killed, and that they had Talon do it, but he also kinda knows he can’t do anything about it, so once again, he bitches in his head about the tongue-free driver and the spookiness of The Seven’s castle in Switzerland.
This would be the perfect place to film a horror movie. [Shane thinks]
Wow, you’re deep, Shane.
The Seven have dragged Shane all the way to Switzerland to give him a press release to…release. It’s about the World Unity Summit, a “historic conference” hosted by one “Dr. Constantine De La Rosa, founder of the Religious Harmony Institute based in Rome, Italy.”
This will hinge, of course, on how much Constantine looks like a young Robert Redford.
Anyway, this whole World Unity Summit is full of all sorts of things that would make RTCs like Michael Murphy and Rayford Steele cringe and cry, like “unity in the midst of diversity,” “peace and security for all peoples,” “striving to heal the earth environmentally,” and “discouraging of groups who stress discrimination with regard to sexual preference, race, or age.”
Now don’t get me wrong. Some of the ideas expressed in this little press release are so vague as to be meaningless. Still, though, I’m looking forward to Michael Murphy crying in a corner about environmentalism and lack of discrimination.
Anyway, Shane kinda sneers at the whole idea, and The Seven tell him that either he uses Barrington News Network and all its outlets to promote this thing, or he dies.
And, as usual…that’s it. They once again made Shane fly all the way to Switzerland for a conversation that would take ten minutes. I get that they want to show their power and money and make Shane hop to, but it still seems like a waste of their time.
Murphy heads off to the diner to see Pastor Bob, just like he went off to the diner to see Pastor Bob in the previous books. And once again, we learn again that the diner is old-fashioned and features a fat waitress named Rosanne. (HA! It’s funny because she’s fat!) (At least according to LaHaye and Phillips.)
And she waddles. Because of course she does.
And good to know that Pastor Bob hasn’t changed a bit, either. Paunch, slacks and polo shirt, golf. Gotcha. And the men order what they order each and every time. Because new experiences are scary for the world-traveling archaeologist, I guess.
Anyway, Bob, the PASTOR OF THE CHURCH, has contacted Murphy, one of his parishioners, for advice on a spiritual matter. Yep, that’s how wise and spiritual Murphy is—his own pastor needs his advice.
On faith healing, of all things. See, there’s a new faith healer in town, a tent evangelist by the name of J.B. Sonstad. Bob finds the man “disturbing,” because he does the ole “Yes, Lord? There’s a lady named Gloria in row B who suffers from irritable bowel syndrome. Be HEAL-AHD, Gloria!”
“I don’t think that is how God works. Do you have any thoughts?”
This is the PASTOR. Fishing for assistance with a rival preacher from one of his parishioners.
Murphy thinks this whole faith healing thing is “some kind of put-up job.”
And he opines that ole J.B. might be some sorta end-times false prophet, like my woobie, Leon Fortunato.
So they decide to go to one of the ten revivals in person to check it out.
Also, Bob is concerned because he’s heard rumors that “some of the young people might be experimenting with the occult. You know, things like using a Ouija board and table tipping.”
Table tipping, really? That’s still a thing? I mean, wasn’t that the hot thing with the young folks back in the days of Harry Houdini?
I guess it’s still a thing, though, because Murphy “witnessed” it in college. (Or course he only witnessed it, and didn’t participate. I can just picture a 20-year-old Murphy, sipping a lemonade and giving the stinkeye to giggling friends doing magic tricks.)
Murphy found it “eerie,” and at the time, dismissed it all as “crazy” and “some type of trick.” Now older and wiser and with “a lot more experience with ancient gods and pagan worship,” he thinks that “some of the things are fake and some of them may be real.”
Hmmm…could it be…
Yes, that’s right: with age and experience has come the realization that there are evil spirits out there, tipping tables and releasing ghosts with Ouija boards.
Bob expresses a desire to “nip this in the bud,” since “people are beginning to ask questions” (HORRORS!!) and as a pastor, he never thought he’d be called upon to answer people’s questions about spiritual matters. That’s what random parishioners are for! Good thing Murphy, the true expert on God, is around to handle such things.
Granted, neither man has the slightest idea how to “nip this in the bud,” so they just cut the scene with a joke about Roseanne and table tipping—she wants a 20% tip.
Murphy hurries to his class, and thinks…
If there was one thing he hated, it was being late for anything. He didn’t like it when other people were late for meetings with him, and he was fanatical about promptness himself.
Huh. A few things:
- Wow, hates it when people are late to meet him! How unusual! What a unique character trait!
- If you hate lateness so much, Murphy, maybe don’t call your pseudo-lover for the first time in weeks mere minutes before you’re supposed to be in class.
Murphy “had traced this idiosyncrasy” back to fifth grade.
See, back in fifth grade, Murphy’s class was going to take a field trip to the Hershey factory. And Murphy “loved chocolate and was excited about going.” (Wow. Murphy is so unique and unpredictable it hurts.) But he was late and missed the bus.
So I guess Murphy grew up near enough to Hershey, PA, to get there by bus for a school trip. So, hey, we learned something new about him!
And Murph gets to the classroom with three whole minutes to spare! Whew, that was a close one, Murph.
The most hilarious part of class is that “class clown” Clayton Anderson is still in it. Remember, this guy was the class clown not only in The Europa Conspiracy (which took place, presumably, only a few weeks ago), but also in Ararat, which took place last year.
Anyway, Clayton saunters in late and slams his books down, then gives the patented “who me” gesture…
This sends the class into uproarious laughter, so we get a little peek into the intelligence level of your average Preston University student. And there’s more to come!
Murphy starts his lecture, which is about pagan gods. He immediately jumps into the issue of child sacrifice, because pagan gods were eeeevil, don’tcha know, unlike his god, who only fakes you out with child sacrifice.
Look, I’m sorry, but brief digression here. Murphy presents all these awful child sacrifices, and doesn’t even touch on his own god (in his biblical archaeology class, mind). Now, this god demanded that Abraham sacrifice his long-awaited son FOR NO REASON. Seriously, God offers nothing in the way of justification for slaughtering your own child, and in fact, when the fake-out is complete, God makes an innocent ram appear, just so Abraham can sacrifice the ram instead. So God is out for blood no matter how your slice it or dice it.
Anyway, as Murphy is blathering on, a pretty lady enters the classroom.
Whoever she was, she certainly looked like a professional model.
Hey, just like Isis! Nothing but the best for our Murph.
So instead of asking this stranger what she’s doing walking into the middle of his lecture, Murphy just keeps going. How much do you wanna bet that Murphy would have stopped the lecture if a Moar Arab had entered his classroom?
Back to Clayton: he makes reference to a pagan god he thinks is like a merman, and when he cracks wise about what kind of bait to use, Murphy responds:
“Well, personally, Clayton, I’d use wisecracking Preston University students.”
Everyone laughed and went “Oooooh.”
“He got you, dude!” said one of the students. Murphy gestured for quiet.
Yeah, he really brought the house down with that one, that Murph. Missed his career as a comedian.
Then again, I’m starting to think that Clayton might in fact be the greatest troll ever. He signs up for every class Michael Murphy teaches, apparently, and tells the same stupid kinds of jokes, and manages to distract the eminent professor every time.
Back to the “striking blonde“: she has vacated by the time Murphy ends the lecture. Can’t say as I blame her.
Murphy was still thinking about the blonde when he entered his office.
Well, isn’t that loyalty for ya? He’s spent the whole last two books pining for Isis, and admitting his love for Isis, but the minute one pretty blonde enters his field of vision, all bets are off. Quite a guy, that Murph.
But he is re-distracted when Shari informs him that Levi Abrams called.
“Levi! That’s great! After he was shot, I got him to the hospital and then he just disappeared. That was months ago.”
Okay, now I think Bob Phillips is just trolling us. Did he really not stop and think about that dialogue after he wrote it? Yeah, when my best friends are shot and then “just disappear, I too wait months before trying to get in touch with them. I just let them take the lead, in such places.
Also, it’s been months since the George Washington Bridge incident? Because that would make it seem like we were in the middle of summer and graduation has already happened and Shari would have to go out and start her life, but we obviously know that is not the case.
Also also, the horrific bureaucracy that is the FBI finally got back with the college professor about the mysterious fingerprint that has nothing to do with anything…and there is no match. So now that Murphy has so patiently waited for Levi to get back in touch with him following the shooting and disappearing, maybe Levi can help with the fingerprint.
‘Cause that’s what shot friends are for.
Whew, sorry, guys! I had vacation and then something wonderful happened.
Anyway, thanks for sticking with me. Back to Preston University…
Michael gives Isis a call. In the previous book, Isis was a tad annoyed that he had waited so long to contact her. And in the book previous to that, even more annoyed. This time, she barely bats an eye when the man who kissed her and said he wanted her in his life…ONCE AGAIN only contacts her when he wants something. So I guess she’s getting used to Michael Murphy’s own particular brand of affection.
As he dials, he reminisces about Isis:
At first he thought that she might be an ice maiden. She seemed preoccupied much of the time, interested only in her work.
After her father’s death, she had lived her life in hiding. Perhaps in an effort to avoid dealing with her loss, she holed up in her office at the Parchments of Freedom Foundation in Washington, D.C.
Yep, because when a woman has a successful career, it can only be because she is hiding some deep inner pain and failing to deal with it in a healthy manner. Can’t just be because she’s had a lifelong passion for the work, as established in Babylon Rising (written by a different author, natch).
Also, Phillips is not only retconning Greg Dinallo’s establishment of Isis’s character, but his own. Because in the previous book, Phillips himself made mention of Isis dating other men in her life. So, much as Murphy would no doubt prefer that she just sit by her phone, awaiting his calls while he does whatever he wants, it appears she has a life beyond being an ice maiden.
Sigh. Anyway, to add insult to injury, Murphy remembers “his rescue of Isis from the bandits” on Ararat, but not that time Isis rescued his ass in the sewers in Babylon Rising. Figures. And once he talks to her, although he says he’s missed her, he gets right down to business—he’ll be in Washington in a few weeks, and in the meantime, would like Isis to look into this “King Yamani” guy. Then the “class bell” rings (because I guess Murphy teaches middle school now), and they have to hang up.
Now off the phone, Murphy gets an update on the possible fingerprint of Meth’s that he lifted in the last book. You’d think such an assignment would be far outside her job description, but she nonetheless is keeping an ear open for a call from the FBI. Being an ultra-conservative RTC, Murphy makes a snide remark about government bureaucracy (because doubtless the FBI has nothing better to do than examine a fingerprint on a Band-Aid submitted by a rogue archaeology professor) and departs for class.
Oh, wait. That “five minutes” Isis was worried about? No big thing to Murphy. First, catch up on the FBI. Then, set a lunch date with Pastor Bob Wagoner. Shari took a call from him, and he needs Murphy’s advice. Because who doesn’t.
So, ready for another of Murphy’s classes? Well, too bad, because it’s coming up next!
So, while Murphy was busy getting his ass handed to him by ninjas and, umm…big guys, Shari was working until 2 a.m. grading “all the book reports and test papers.”
I continue to be astonished that book reports are even a thing in a supposedly-advanced archaeology class. Did Phillips and LaHaye not remember college at all?
(Well, LaHaye went to Bob Jones University, so maybe book reports were a thing, after all…)
Anyway, for her hard work, Murphy gives Shari a hearty “thanks,” and Shari’s eyes twinkle. Ew.
Murphy then regales Shari with an account of the abandoned underground amusement park with ninjas (and yes, when I actually type it out like that, it does sound a bit silly, doesn’t it?) and his theory of what Meth wants him to find.
Murphy blathers on about the ark of the covenant, getting Shari’s hopes up:
“You don’t think he’s found the Ark, do you?” Shari’s eyes were wide with excitement. “That would be one of the greatest archaeological finds ever!”
Well, I guess so, Shari. And I know you don’t own a TV and all, but are you sure you want to find this thing?
But no. Apparently conceding that he shot his wad with the whole Noah’s Ark thing (an ark which, as we saw, remains lost), it is declared that Meth wants Murphy to re-find two of the three things which were apparently in the Ark (and then, I guess, lost somehow): Aaron’s Rod and a gold jar that held manna.
But Murphy is still at a loss about the whole “King Yamani” thing. So Shari suggests that he enlist Isis’s help. Or, as she puts it:
“I’ll give you a clue. Stunningly beautiful. Red hair. Sparkling green eyes.”
Okay, first of all, Shari, that’s three clues. Second of all, it’s just kinda odd that you characterize Isis as “stunningly beautiful” and her eyes as “sparkling.”
Except that Phillips is apparently contractually obligated to always refer to Isis’s eyes as “sparkling.” Have I missed something all my life? I know people with beautiful eyes, but none of them sparkle. Or twinkle, like Shari’s. Maybe Phillips is just really into sparkling vampires.
Looks like the flashback to Bible times this book will be a look back at Caiaphas, and the trial of Jesus.
I’ll admit, I’m not as up on Caiaphas as I am on some other Bible characters and stories. Still, I look forward to learning more. Especially as the whole thing seems like a delightful entry into the old the-Jews-killed-Jesus trope, and given the fact that Murphy’s best buddy is Jewish, this might be amusing.
So Caiaphas hires “two swarthy men.” (Of course they’re swarthy. Apparently they also stink and have bad breath. Because all bad guys do.) The swarthy guys are to spy on Jesus and report back to Caiaphas.
Bizarrely, the two stinky guys manage to follow Jesus and the disciples out of Jerusalem and all the way up the Mount of Olives (a 30-minute climb, we are helpfully informed) without being detected. It’s important that Jesus took the guys all the way up there…because he needs to tell them about things they will never see or experience!
“Can we tell when the end of the world will come?” asked Peter.
“Others will come in my name, claiming to be the Messiah. They will lead many astray. Wars will break out near and far, but don’t panic.”
Yeah, don’t panic, Peter—BECAUSE YOU WON’T BE ALIVE TO SEE IT.
Seriously, Jesus goes on and on and ON about all this (“It sounds as if it will be a terrible time of tribulation,” Peter helpfully exposits) but never once points out to the apostles that all this will happen in a series of books published in the 1990s and 2000s.
Seriously, none of the apostles will see this, according to LaHaye. And Jesus knows that they won’t see it. So why waste their precious time together (and Jesus knows just how precious and short this time is) by informing them of this but not that it will happen far, far in the future?
Just seems cruel, is all I’m saying.
Murphy’s next adorable trial in this never-ending “fun” house is the maze of mirrors. Murphy, a grown man, takes time out of his busy schedule of staying alive in the face of ninjas and…well, big guys, I guess…to admire the differences in all the mirrors.
Dozens of Murphys were reflected back at him
What a nightmare.
One of them was curved and made him look fat. Another made him look skinny—he really liked that one.
He did? Okay, I’m sorry, but that sentence just stopped me dead in my tracks. Murphy is a straight, mid-forties (probably), athletic guy, and he wants to look skinny? I have never in my life heard a man say he wants to look skinny. Women, sure, but “skinny” is generally not considered to be a positive term when it comes to men. And it’s not like Murphy has struggled with his weight all his life and thus might like the idea of being skinny. Because we are constantly told that he is (and always has been) super-athletic.
It’s just very weird that a man wrote that sentence.
Anywho, Murphy starts to mark his trail with a granola bar. Oh so very proud of himself, he thinks,
Hansel and Gretel have got nothing on me.
Or, yanno, you could put one hand out, touch the wall, and just follow it to the end. That always works. Might take awhile, but you would be assured of victory.
Murphy sees a video camera monitoring him (so Meth had the time to completely wire this place for surveillance), and just as he gets close to it, he falls through “a hole in the floor.” Huh. Too bad Indiana Murphy wasn’t watching where he was going.
The precious granola bar is lost forever, and Murphy manages, action hero that he is, to grab the edge of the “hole” and then pull himself back up again (we are told this is all over an “abyss” with a giant pool of water below. Nothing but the highest safety standards for the underground fun house!
Finally, Murphy makes it out of the stupid maze.
He was growing weary of this game…
And he isn’t the only one…
And he finds the beginning of the book—the roller coaster car he’s supposed to ride. And Phillips played a bit of a trick on us here. Because this is actually a tunnel of love ride, not a roller coaster. It’s just that roller coaster-type cars are used in the ride, instead of the more usual boats.
So it’s not nearly so dramatic when Murphy has to jump out of the ride. Because he’s going, like, two miles per hour.
He does the ride, and there are spooky things, and Murphy is feeling all superior, because silly spooky rides don’t scare him, no, sirree.
Yet something made him apprehensive. Call it instinct, intuition, or just plain street smarts…
Or the fact that he’s on an old, decrepit ride that would be a death trap even if it wasn’t being operated by a mysterious billionaire who likes to torment him?
So Murphy makes the smart decision and hops off the car, riding the bumper. And it’s a good thing he does, since “two eighty-pound blocks of cement smashed into the seat where he had just been sitting.”
Okay, that just seems plain unsporting of Meth. How was anyone supposed to see that coming? Oh yeah, Murphy’s “street smarts.” What mean streets would those be, Phillips? College Lane at his private college?
So the ride ends and Murphy hops off and the car crashes (slowly, I assume, though Phillips tries to make it seem tense). Anyway, Murphy’s bag is still aboard the car, and everything is destroyed, included Muphy’s bow, which he was skilled with when Greg Dinallo was writing him, but Phillips forgot about for the past two books, only to bring it back up right now so that the bow can be destroyed. But it’s okay…
Knew I should’ve insured the darn thing.
…because Murphy isn’t exactly broken up about this.
And, FINALLY FINALLY, the frakking clue:
Thirty degrees northeast of the altar…press the king’s head.
Well. That was certainly worth four full chapters.