JUDAS THE APOSTLE
By Van R. Mayhall Jr.
iUniverse, $28.95 (also available
in paperback and ebook versions)
When Thibodeaux Lejeune accidentally fell into a cave in the mountains of Algiers during World War II, he found something. That something, an oil jar, had an inscription on it: “Ioudas Iskarioth,” the name Judas Iscariot in ancient Greek. “Thib” grabbed the jar and took it with him. Another soldier, also a Louisiana boy, was with him, but when they got out of the cave, the other soldier was killed, vaporized by an exploding mortar shell. Thib can’t get over the loss and never goes back to the cave. He takes his jar and goes back home to Madisonville and proceeds to live a quiet life until his 17-year daughter, Clotile, turns up pregnant.
When the young father of Cloe’s baby dies in an accident before they can get married, she is left unwed and pregnant. When her father reacts badly to the news, Cloe takes the geographic cure and absconds to Washington State. She stays gone for 25 years, gets several college degrees and winds up working for the University of Washington as a professor in the ancient languages department.
Fast forward to the present day. Thib, a widower now, still lives in the same house in Madisonville where the oil jar sits on his mantle. Thib gets nervous about having it there after a stranger approaches him with insistent demands that Thib sell him the jar.
Thib moves the jar to the local church for safekeeping with his friend and confessor, Father Al. Soon afterward, Thib is murdered in his home, but not before he manages to use his shotgun to kill his assailant.
Suddenly, Cloe is on her way back home to her father’s funeral, accompanied by her 24-year-old son, J.E., a special forces officer in the Army. They are met at New Orleans airport by kindly old Uncle Sonny, her father’s brother. They get through the funeral but are surprised at the reading of their father’s will by the unexplained presence of Father Al and a strange, odd priest called Monsignor Albert Roques. The will reveals some of the mystery. The oil jar is a rare and ancient artifact that may have tremendous religious significance, and it might be more than a jar. It might contain something, even an ancient manuscript that would be priceless. So it has to be analyzed.
It’s time for Cloe, J.E., Father Al and Monsignor Albert to head off to LSU. There they find a state-of-the-art photo lab and a powerful supercomputer called “Mike” that can not only get images of the jar but analyze those images.
They go to dinner at the LSU Faculty Club, guests of Dean Broussard. “The party had agreed to meet at the club at seven o’clock. It was still light, but a stunning sunset was in the making as Cloe, J.E., and the two priests walked the pleasant three or four blocks from the Cook Hotel to the Faculty Club. The air was filled with the scent of fall pine boughs, and the lightning bugs had begun to fire off their visual symphony of cool light flashes. It was a moment that Cloe would look back on as the calm before the storm.”
It is surely is that, because on their way back, someone tries to run them down with a car. Cloe and J.E. narrowly escape, and the priests are unharmed. It’s clear the attack was targeted at Cloe. The assailants get away, but it’s just the beginning.
A powerful and incredibly wealthy collector of antiques, The Kolektor, has decided he must have the oil jar. He is based in Jerusalem, but he has servants everywhere, even on the LSU campus. He would buy the relic, but if that is not possible — and it no longer is — then he will murder the owner and take the jar. Cloe is in big danger.
This thriller has some likable heroes: Cloe, thrust into intrigue she could never imagine; J.E., the brave and loyal son who is also a highly trained special operations officer; the kindly yet brave Uncle Sonny; the mysterious Monsignor Albert who is a special agent for the Vatican and the big-hearted Father Al. Soon one of these is killed by another “accident.” The action ramps up after a manuscript is found inside the jar.
Mayhall, a Baton Rouge attorney, has done the one thing in this book that is essential to keeping a thriller thrilling: he has created a bad guy who is truly evil. The Kolektor lives in a bunker under a fake antiquities store in Jerusalem and he is without conscience. He cares only for what he wants.
Mayhall gives sufficient backstory to explain why this twisted villain is so filled with hate and disdain, but also makes it clear that the malevolent seeds sowed by the collector’s past life fell on very fertile ground.
As gripping as the plot is, there are a few stumbles that will give the reader pause. One sentence begins, “What have we tumbled onto?” when the author almost certainly meant “stumbled onto.” Another sentence declares, “The herbed, roasted fowl with winter vegetables was suburb.” Readers can forgive little lapses like that, but may be confused when J.E. declares in Chapter 30 that among the five dead is “the excavator operator” but doesn’t learn that the excavator operator is dead until Chapter 31.
These annoying errors point out one of the pitfalls of publishing with a pay-for-publication provider like iUniverse. There’s no editing provided. That’s really too bad. This is a good book, and it deserves some attention.
Mayhall has a clear and uncluttered writing style well-suited to the thriller genre. His plot is good. He does his homework on the history of his subject. He just needs an editor as do all writers. But don’t let editing quibbles stop you from reading Judas the Apostle. It’s worth reading for the Baton Rouge color alone, and it’s perfect for the season since it takes place near Halloween. There’s even a scene set at The Chimes at the gates to LSU.
“When Cloe, Father Al, J.E., and the monsignor arrived, the restaurant was teeming with LSU fans anticipating the game with Ole Miss. Again the Swiss Guard deployed strategically to protect them. Television screens had been set up throughout the restaurant. Since this was the game closest to Halloween, many people were in costume. This was also the anniversary of the famous Halloween run of LSU’s sole Heisman Trophy winner, Billy Cannon, the great All-American.”