Blurb: There is a killer loose on the streets of London, one that evades security cameras, is not held by locks, and savagely mutilates his victims. When the murderer switches from unknown prostitutes to Julie Longmuir, a beautiful actress at the height of her success, no woman feels safe. As the press begin to draw uncomfortable comparisons with Jack the Ripper, Jane Sullivan, heading up the police investigation, grudgingly has to agree. But the religious writing, scrawled on the wall in Julie Longmuir’s blood, is outside Jane’s area of expertise. Roping in Jacob Prior, a disillusioned theologian, they attempt to pick apart the demonic delusions of this Ripper copycat. They must act quickly, as events are spiralling out of control, and Jane is next on the killer’s list.
Jane will be tested beyond the limits of standard police work, as the esoteric insinuates itself into the investigation. For events are linked to the clandestine Priory in the Pyrenees, the home of a secret Christian sect that pre-dates the Knights Templar. Jane and Jacob are faced with a deeper mystery than they had ever dreamed of; are they simply dealing with a psychopath, or is this something bigger, is this The End of Days?
I have a confession to make – Dan Brown and his books got me hooked on conspiracies. Yes, I admit it. Throw in a secret society, and I guarantee, you’ll have me hooked.
That’s what the blurb for The Lazarus Prophecy did – and added the interesting element of Jack the Ripper to boot. This is the first FG Cottam book I’ve read and I admit I’m of two minds about it. First, it’s a compelling plot – it starts simply enough: a man is killing women in London – first prostitutes and then single, successful women. Their deaths are horrendous, and violent, and harken back to Jack the Ripper’s kills. When the book opens Jane, the DCI in charge of the investigation finds yet another body. Like the other bodies, this one comes with a message that results in a meeting with Jacob, a young man, struggling with his own thoughts on religion. Throw in a psychic and a secret society of priests dedicated to protecting the world, and soon enough, Jane finds the case behind the Scholar, as the killer is dubbed, grows steadily stranger.
I can appreciate that the main character is female, and Cottam doesn’t shy away from the politics and consequences around her leading such an important investigation. Jane is determined to find the killer, even opening up to avenues of investigation and thought I can’t imagine she would normally. Females dominate the book, with the roles of characters of the church, and of research falling to the male characters. They all have their secrets and their work away from prying eyes, including those of the media, which Jane, on the other hand has to endure and emerge better for it. Jacob, by far the most prominent male character, begins to think of Jane emotionally, for more than she does of him because of her focus on the investigation at hand. These are all points though that I realised late in the book because Cottam’s writing and plotting were compelling.
Cottam’s killer has the kind of ruthlessness that had me imagining him smiling every time he killed someone, taking pleasure in his work. Add the attention to detail, and the almost cold determination of everyone trying to catch this killer and you’ll have this compelling read. Cottam doesn’t rely on dialogue all that much, something which didn’t trouble me in the beginning, but as the book started to make its way towards its conclusion, I did find myself wondering how different or how much more tense those last chapters would be had there been more dialogue – for me at least, as a reader, dialogue is an important part of keeping up the pacing, and the drama in a book like this one.
Back to Jane and Jacob: as mentioned above, Jane is focused on her work, to the exclusion of everything else, and rightly so. She’s earned the right to lead this investigation and she knows the scrutiny on her as a result. But, being aware of the politics doesn’t change how much she wants the Scholar caught – which leads her to unconventional avenues of investigation, like a psychic. I would not call Jane a believer of things like that generally, but she knows she needs help, and she will consider anything.
Jacob is a theologian, and he has issues with religion when the book opens. With him, the focus is on what being part of the Church once gave him in terms of knowledge, research and contacts, and as a result, the church is very naturally brought into the story and the investigation. Jane is attracted to him and he to her, but their relationship never takes over the book.
If there’s one thing this book could have absolutely done without, it’s the last chapter that runs through all the characters readers would have met in the previous pages of the book and ties things up far too neatly. When it comes to an ending, red bows are not always necessary – and can be a letdown after the book. I wish the author had embraced an untidy ending, and let readers imagine where things could have gone.