Monday, June 22, 2015

The Psalter - A Book Review

A medieval prayer book, an Irish saint's prophecy of the last pope, and a forgery that changed the church—forever. Father Romano has run afoul of the modern inquisitors before. This time, it leads to a medieval manuscript and murder. Was it an ordinary theft gone wrong or something more? The Carabinieri in Rome would like to know. Michael Romano is an American priest working in the Vatican's Secret Archives with a penchant for stepping over the line. Church Inquisitors have noticed -- and aren't happy. Nevertheless, Romano is also the Church's senior paleographer, an expert in ancient manuscripts, and his expertise is needed to examine a ninth-century codex known as a Psalter. Father Romano's examination leads him into the past as he uncovers a historical narrative of medieval forgeries, Saracen invasions and a legendary fight for the richest kingdom on earth. Yet he has unwittingly become a target for those who will stop at nothing to possess the secret of the Psalter.

Religious, historical, fast-paced, action thrillers are like a sugar rush for this reviewer.  No, make that a double espresso chocolate brownie sugar rush.  Galen Watson did not give his readers, this one included, an opportunity to breath from the time we opened to the first page till I finally saw “the end” printed at the back of the book.  As I was reading an e-book version, I didn’t even have the cheat of knowing how many pages were left to know how much time was left before we would come to the end of the wild hair-raising ride.
Galen Watson spent very little time dithering about the backstory of side stories as he rocketed through the mystery of the Psalter.  The reader was pulled back and forth between the current time and the great Vatican Library with Father Romano who was investigating the loss of a Psalter and its mysteries and the 840’s during the time when the Vatican was controlled by Popes, Caesars, and the political families of Rome. 
The great mystery centered about Father Johannes and his Psalters.  It was during this time that a great many Psalters were penned by Father Johannes.  There were thousands of Psalters penned by scribes during that times.  What made these so special?  So sought after, even in the twenty-first century? 
Those who read Dan Brown, David Morrell, and other religious thriller authors over the last twenty years will enjoy this novel.  In fact, after reading The Psalter, I was curious enough to go do some research and find out more information on the subject of the Psalters of the era and of the subject of the surprise topic the jumped up about half way through the book and slapped me in the face.  No, I’m not telling…it needs to shock you as much as it did me.  I had to back up and catch my breath and re-think things for a few minutes before continuing…and google a few things.
Yes, this one is going on the “reading it again” shelf.  I give it a good 4.5 STARS.  I look forward to finding more of Galen Watson’s novels to enjoy.  I want to see what new surprises he has in the Vatican closet to keep me awake all night trying to finish a real page turner.

I read the 300 Spartans by John Burke when I was in grade school and decided that I loved historical fiction. When I was a teenager, I read The Egyptian by Mika Waltari, and was fascinated with how he adeptly wove historical events into a fiction, filled with mystery, adventure, political intrigue, and philosophical reflections.

History fascinates me, particularly historical events that shape who we are. It has a major impact on my blog posts and stories, and it's a fundamental theme in The Psalter. When I read a novel, I want to be entertained, of course, but I also want to learn something historically, philosophically, or be provoked. Umberto Eco's character opined in The Name of the Rose, "Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn't ask ourselves what it says but what it means..." That's what I ask when I read a book, and when I write, I want it to mean something.

In high school, I was an exchange student in the French countryside, and heard about a medieval religious forgery, likely created in a monastery north of Paris in Corbie, not far from Amiens. I read the research over the years, and realized how dramatically it shifted church supremacy, in a dramatic power play that changed the church forever. It was that religio-political fight I wanted to write about. After I sold a business, I took some time off. That hiatus gave me time to reflect, and it dawned on me that if I didn't try to write a novel, I would never know if I could.

I live in the Sierra Nevada's and spend a lot of time in Paris and Normandy. I have a degree in French literature and admit to being a closet banjo picker.