Saturday, July 30, 2022

"The Secret of Heaven" by Felix Alexander--Fiction Review

Today’s book, Obscurists, is “The Secret of Heaven” by Felix Alexander, a historical religious thriller that revolves around theological controversies that span thousands of years.

Felix Alexander

***The Non-Spoiler part of this review***

What I love about this book:

Despite not being a religious person myself, I enjoy theological lore, albeit from a strictly literary and historical perspective. Right off the bat with his writing, it’s easy to tell that Alexander is well versed in this subject—more so than I am, at least. Which is one of the chief things I liked about this book because, even though it’s fiction, I got to learn new things. 

Undoubtedly a bit of Dan Brown in this book’s DNA, with even a sly nod and wink at Brown’s titular protagonist. Typically, I’m not the biggest fan of that kind of thriller/historical fiction and have to be in an odd humor to pick up such a book. Still, though, I’m glad I picked up “The Secret of Heaven” because it managed to surprise me by grabbing my attention early on and holding it all the way to the end.

There is no denying that it’s an exciting book. The characters are almost always on the move, and even in the rare moments they aren’t, the tension gets ramped up with every scene as more-and-more revelations come to light. This only makes the antagonists of this story even more deadly as they become increasingly desperate to find the lost bible.

Supernatural elements are present in this book, but I really liked how Alexander primarily played them off stage from the main plot.

What I don’t love about this book:

This world is lousy with secret societies doing—whatever secret societies do with their endless amount of free time and resources. I’m skeptical of secret societies in fiction that control the whole worldwide economy because—to put it delicately—people suck at keeping anything secret. So skeptical, in fact, that I find a secret society that has been masterfully kept to the shadows for centuries to be more fantastical than angels or dragons. That’s how little of an opinion I have of people being able to keep a secret.

At the beginning of this novel, which sort of just trails off, amnesia is introduced as a story element, and, yeah, like I said in my “Project Hail Mary” review, it isn’t one of my favorite story devices. In “The Secret of Heaven,” other than obscuring the details of how precisely Aiden’s mentor Lazzaro de Medici died, it doesn’t add much to the story. Basically, it goes, “ugh, who am I?” “You’re Aiden Leonardo, respected Professor of Biblical Studies, and this is your fiancé, who is also a doctor of archaeology, is incredibly beautiful, incredibly talented, incredibly smart, and incredibly fit with martial arts training.” “Oh, yeah, I guess I am Aiden Leonardo.”

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***The Spoiler part of this review***
***Ye be warned to turn back now***

The quick and dirty synopsis:

Our story begins with the aforementioned amnesia-riddled Aiden finding out from his fiancé that he is the prime suspect in the murder of Lazzaro de Medici, Aiden’s mentor, and adoptive father.

With barely any time to get his bearings, Aiden has to flee the hospital and, with the help of his mysterious fiancé, Miriam. Then he goes on the run with his best friend, Lazzaro’s son, Lorenzo. We already know at this point that even if he wasn’t precisely the person who had murdered his father, Lorenzo was involved with the people who did want Lazzaro dead.

So there is a tense dance happening between Aiden and Lorenzo because Lorenzo still has to pretend to be Aiden’s lifelong friend so that ultimately Aiden can help him and, by extension, his murderous employers—known as “the group”—obtain and presumably destroy the lost bible.

Aiden and Miriam get split up shortly after she leaves the house where Lorenzo is hiding Aiden when the police raid the house. Aiden and Lorenzo escape and meet up with a mutual acquaintance who also happens to be a talented hacker, and they continue their flight from the authorities.

Miriam continues her own investigations on her own initiative and even runs into a former significant other of hers, a detective. The detective, however, a zealously religious man, is one of “the group’s” most trusted secret enforcers in the police department. He is ordered to bring Miriam in where, ultimately, she will likely be used as leverage against Aiden, murdered, or both. While following Miriam around under the guise of just an old flame turned trusted friend, the detective unexpectedly starts to consider changing his stripes. He still loves Miriam, and as he learns more about how historically “the group” has manipulated him and all people of faith, he questions and changes his mind about blindly following.

The group” responds to the detective’s desertion of their cause by attempting to have him murdered by yet more crooked law enforcement. They escape, however, with the help of yet another secret society.

Aiden, Lorenzo, and the hacker get split up, but only Lorenzo gets nabbed by the police.

After several more twists, turns, and desperate chases, the lost bible is found, and all parties involved have a showdown where Aiden has to turn over the lost bible to save Miriam. Also, “the group” is after the billions of dollars Lorenzo’s father, Lazzaro, had illegally obtained for “the group,” only to turn around and find redemption, cutting “the group” off from those ill-gotten funds.

It turns out Lazzaro was also Aiden’s biological father, a secret kept from Aiden but which makes Aiden Lorenzo’s half-brother. After finding out that his father left him nothing in his will but everything to Aiden, Lorenzo was enraged, which fueled his role in murdering the old man. 

Shortly after yet another near-death experience, “the group” is foiled, Lorenzo is killed, and the lost bible and billions end up in Aiden and his friend’s hands. Aiden decides to give the money away to as many good causes as he can find and decides to protect the lost bible, to preserve its message, the secret of heaven, until the world is ready.


At the center of this novel is; what is the secret of heaven? And, what it appears to be, is definitive proof that Jesus himself did not see himself as God but as a man. That he wasn’t divine, but divinely inspired like all the other prophets, which happens to be the Islamic view of things. “The group’s” whole point is that if people knew the truth that the Christian church was founded on a false notion—the world economy and society would come to a screeching halt. A notion—and maybe I’m biased to this—I find dubious.

Indeed, the details about the Gospel of Barnabas are historically interesting. But even if we all agreed that it was clear proof and its message unassailable and undeniable—a tall order for a species that has members that are still convinced the Earth is flat—I still don’t think society would just stop on a dime. The revelation that Jesus was just a really devout man who happened to be very progressive in his dealings with the poor and the sick just doesn’t strike me as Earth-shattering. 

The rest of the novel is enjoyable, with its intrigue and action. I can easily imagine the type of people this book would work with; it knows its business and what niche it fills. It’s like a wonderfully carved piece of furniture—mental furniture in this case—it has its flaws here and there with the occasional confusing changes of pace and description but still well made. I admire that craftsmanship, even if it’s not quite my sort of mental furnishing.

Parting thoughts:

In many stories that involve the fate of the world or society, western or otherwise, I find this recurring certainty in the narrative that if this event—we’ll call it X—happens, then Y and Z consequences will undoubtedly follow. 

The problem I have with this narrative tradition is that it isn’t anything like how the actual world works. If you think about just the last decade, it isn’t a controversial statement to say that it was a series of very, very unexpected events—the Cubs won the world series in 2016! I can’t seem to remember, but I think something else happened that year that was totally unexpected and put us on a four-year marathon of insanity.

I don’t know. It’ll probably come back to me.

My point is that the world is so complex with so many actors and decisions being made that the idea that any one person or group of persons could predict, let alone control world events, is ridiculous. 

I don’t like arguments that make it seem like fiction is to blame for real-world problems—after all, when there is another school shooting inevitably, there will be someone that disingenuously puts forward, yet again, well, it’s because of video games. It’s never the proliferation and frightening ease of access to guns. But that’s a soapbox for another day, and I’m straying from my point.

When bad things happen, I believe our modern entertainment helps to reinforce our erroneous belief that someone is always to blame—that there is always some nefarious cabal of plotters who schemed up, for example, the pandemic. 

We do this because thousands of years and generations have shaped us to seek out and identify patterns, and it’s been a handy skill up until now. It helped our ancestors hunt, find water, recognize seasonal cycles, et cetera. We’re so primed to do it, though, that we see patterns where there are no patterns—and intention where there is none. Anyone who has seen a picture in a cloud has experienced this phenomenon, although they might not have recognized it at the time.

The world, however, is chaos. Lots and lots of unaccountable things happen, and their aggregate effect is often unexpected. As more and more people are born into this world, there are more chances for the unexpected to happen.

Sometimes bad things happen—with no conscious input from anyone of us—because I believe that the universe isn’t here for our benefit. We just happen to be a part of it. Sometimes, the volcano erupts, and a village is wiped out, and it wasn’t because Christopher masturbates too much and the volcano god was mad at him.

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