Holy Smoke by Frederick Ramsay


Holy Smoke by Frederick Ramsay
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Genre: Historical, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (221 pages)
Rated: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

The year is 29 C. E. and Jerusalem chafes under the Roman Empire’s continued presence and oppressive rule. But in spite of that unpleasant fact of life, life goes on—but not for everyone. People die, some because it is their time, others by misadventure. One death in particular brings the City’s daily routine to a halt. A badly scorched body is found behind the veil of The Holy of Holies—the Temple’s inner sanctum, the most sacred space on earth for the Jews. No one except the High Priest may enter this place and he only once a year on the Day of Atonement. This is no casual violation and the authorities are in an uproar.

Gamaliel, the Rabban of the Sanhedrin, the ranking rabbi in all of Judea, finds himself drawn into solving this delicate mystery while dark agents with unholy interests, plot to seize control of much of the trade in certain highly profitable imports from the east and west.

Loukas, the physician, plays “Watson” to Gamaliel’s “Sherlock” as the tangled web of intrigue and murder is slowly unraveled, but not before more bodies, both literal and figurative pop up. All the while Yeshua, the radical rabbi from the Galilee, continues to annoy the High Priest and smoke, Holy Smoke, from the sacrifices rise from the Temple.

Holy Smoke is set in 29 CE. A murder victim is discovered in a sacred place in the temple. Who could have left the body or, indeed, was his death a result of his mere presence in this holy and restricted area?

The Sleuth (a Rabbi named Gamaliel) wastes no time considering other-worldly interference. He refers to the local doctor for forensic information on the body and pursues a logical course in unraveling events. His character is clear and well-written, but without great any great feeling. At no point do you wonder how events will impact him as an individual, or if our hero is changing because of his endeavors. It just doesn’t seem to matter. He does engender some admiration. There is satisfaction in following his train of thought. Conversations are convincing.

The pace never picks up, although more events (and deaths) occur. They are presented as a ever-increasingly complex series of problems, with inter-church/political causes and possibly ramifications – all in a precise and complex, yet not confusing manner. Gamaliel’s pursuit reveals his cleverness…but not much more. We believe the importance of solving the mystery, but never really care.

Holy Smoke is a well-designed story with clear, readable style…but I never felt much for any character throughout.  It is very much plot driven, and not reliant upon the reader’s attachment to characters involved. The cover is completely wonderful, and quite possibly the most dramatic part of the whole work.

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