The Sword of the Templars by the Canadian author Christopher Hyde (writing under the pseudonym of Paul Christopher) was first published in the USA by Signet in 2009 and subsequently appeared in Great Britain in 2011 via Michael Joseph and Penguin Books. Where page numbers are cited in this review the pagination is that of the latter paperback edition.
The main protagonist – a lecturer in his late fifties at West Point – is called Lieutenant Colonel John ‘Doc’ Holliday. Wearing a black eye patch as a result of an accident sustained whilst serving in the US military, he’s an ersatz Indiana Jones figure. Sharing a second-cousin relationship with Holliday is Peggy Blackstock – a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist – who provides the eye candy for this story. In essence, she’s Marion Ravenwood to Holliday’s Indiana Jones, though one does wonder how many thirty-something women are named Peggy these days.
However, it has to be said that when you reference The Da Vinci Code in the first sentence of your book you really are setting the bar low. Even so, unlike the Dan Brown book, nothing much happens in Chapter 1. In fact, as far as authorial technique is concerned, it’s all a case of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’.
Some muddled, right wing history is also on display here. At the end of his lecture Holliday refers to ‘Catholics killing Protestants in Belfast’. The obvious riposte to this facile statement would be, what about the flip side, since it’s a fact that more Catholics were actually killed in the so-called Troubles than Protestants.
Chapter 2 delivers a hook at the end when Holliday receives an unexpected telephone call late in the evening. The dialogue here, though, is clunky – no one actually gives their name in a phone call to someone they already know. In addition, it’s all too convenient for Holliday to be thinking about his uncle at the very moment that he finds out that the same man is on his deathbed. Nevertheless, at least the story can now pick up pace with its introduction of the mysterious Templar sword which is linked to Adolf Hitler.
Despite being published by a reputable British firm, there are unfortunately some obvious typos which any accomplished proofreader should have eliminated. On page 31 ‘The lighting runes’ should of course read ‘The lightning runes’, ‘Arrive Trains Wales’ (page 50) should be ‘Arriva Trains Wales’ and ‘forceps for delivery babies’ (page 223) should read ‘forceps for delivering babies’.
Errors of verisimilitude occur with some regularity. On page 99 the author refers to Leominster British Rail station. This is a glaring mistake since BR was privatised in 1997, ten years before the book was published. In case you are thinking that The Sword of the Templars is perhaps set in an earlier period, 9/11 is mentioned in Chapter 1 and later on a German pope is referred to, in other words Pope Benedict XVI, whose papacy spanned the years 2005-2013.
The fact that Holliday lost an eye in Kabul has clearly been forgotten by the time we reach page 57. Here the narrative describes him as having ‘One eye on the ground…the other on the runner.’ After a fire fight during which two men are killed, Holliday and Peggy abandon their bullet-riddled Avis hire car and continue with their journey, not even bothering to contact the police, despite the fact that as tourists one of them would have needed to produce his or her passport in order to hire the car in the first instance.
On page 102 a full English breakfast is described as being egg and chips. ‘Meister schieben’ on page 140 is translated as ‘Master shooter’. I’m afraid that this is not correct. The German verb ‘schiessen’ means ‘to shoot’ whereas ‘schieben’ is ‘to shove’. In any case, the actual German word for a marksman or crack shot is a ‘Meister schütze’. Likewise, although ‘Hof’ can indeed mean ‘farm’, a more accurate translation of the German ‘Berghof’ (i.e. the Führer’s Austrian retreat) would be ‘mountain court’.
Throughout The Sword of the Templars the writing is merely adequate, no more than that. There’s never a moment where you think to yourself, wasn’t that a striking image, metaphor or well-wrought sentence. On page 41 we encounter a ‘neatly manicured lawn’, which is the kind of cliché that the style manuals advise us to scrupulously avoid in our writing. Nevertheless, the author is not quite finished yet, since on page 116 he cannot resist referring to some ‘perfectly manicured shrubbery’.
If you can overlook stilted dialogue, coincidental encounters, hostility towards other nationalities and a heroine who suddenly develops an infatuation with an archaeologist who is old enough to be her father, then this might be the book for you. And if you desire a globe trotting peregrination, then this work will certainly appeal, given that it features the following locations: North America, England, Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Israel, France, Spain, Portugal and The Azores. However, in my book, anyone who qualifies them in the following Hollywood manner, e.g. Paris, France, needs to step away from his word processor pretty damned quickly.
My verdict? Two stars out of five. And I’m being generous.