Author:  Craig Parshall
Title:  The Rose Conspiracy
Publisher:  Harvest House Publishers

When the secretary of the Smithsonian Institute is murdered while reading newly discovered pages from the diary of John Wilkes Booth, Vinnie Archmont, a bohemian sculptor, is accused of the murder and the theft of the historic documents.  She hires J.D. Blackstone, a retired law professor who practices in Washington, D.C., to vindicate her.

Blackstone is considered to be Washington’s most brilliant attorney, but one who is also very eccentric.  He drives a fast car and has a luxurious lifestyle, but he doesn’t date—or express many emotions.  We quickly learn that Blackstone lost his wife and child in a freak accident, which accounts for his emotional shut-down.  But when Vinnie comes to see him, he is attracted to her.  The bigger problem, however, is that his new client may not be who she says she is.  She may not be innocent of the murder.

While examining photos of the crime scene, Blackstone notices a blank notebook.  Rightly concluding that the victim wrote something on it which was then stolen, he takes the remaining pages and their faint impressions to a forensic examiner, who tells Blackstone that the secretary wrote the following:

A strange cipher appears in the Booth diary as follows:

To AP and KGC
Rose of 6 is Sir al ik's golden tree
In gospel Mary first revealed
At Ashli plot reveals the key.

Vinnie asks Blackstone to contact Lord Dee, a wealthy English Lord, to pay her bail and give him some information.  Blackstone flies to England to meet the billionaire, who is also a religious philosopher and a high-ranking Freemason.  He learns of the existence of the Mystic Freemasons, a clandestine fraternal order that dates back centuries.  Could the Freemasons be involved in the murder?  As the case unravels, becoming increasingly religious in the process, Blackstone begins to wonder.

Then he finds two old photographs that rattle him.  The first is a picture of a Albert Pike, an attorney turned Confederate soldier who was charged with treason—and a Freemason.  The second is a picture of Pike’s betrothed.  Her name was Vinnie Beam and she was a sculptor.  Bizarrely, the two look just like Lord Dee and Vinnie.

That’s when the attempts on Blackstone’s life begin.  He turns to his uncle, the Reverend John Lambe, a professor and expert on the occult.  The two have spent many hours together debating the faith, with Blackstone insisting that the Bible is fiction and Lambe claiming the opposite.  Blackstone learns about Gnosticism, the “faith” embraced by the Freemasons which denies the Gospel, and which was soundly refuted by the church fathers as a cult.  Thanks to his uncle, Blackstone also learns  about all the evidence proving the existence of Jesus, along with his death and resurrection.

Meanwhile, one of the lines in the notebook leads Blackstone to conclude that Wilkes may have been taking a message to Pike and the Knights of Columbus.  This leads him to uncover a prime motive—and a viable opportunity—for his client to have committed the secretary’s murder.  And yet, Blackstone is convinced she is innocent.  But if she didn’t, who did?  And why are they trying so hard to kill him?  Without realizing it, Blackstone has stumbled upon the Mystic Freemason’s most guarded secret..

Craig Parshall is the author of Trial by Ordeal, which received strong editorial reviews.  The Rose Conspiracy may not fare as well.  Although the plot is tightly constructed and moves rapidly, with a Da Vinci Code style, Parshall’s characters are thinly-drawn stereotypes, and readers will strive to identify with them.  Blackstone, the book’s antagonist, is not fully developed and, at times, readers will notice contradictions.  This makes it very difficult to sympathize with him, despite his tragic past.

The writing could also be strengthened.  Parshall occasionally mixes pronouns used to identify characters, which is confusing, and he tends to “tell” too much.  The weakest aspect of the book, however, is its Christian message.  To be sure, that message is a strong one constructed of solid theology.  But, in the book, it comes across as a series of sermons.  They take readers out of the story and into a classroom dominated by a seminary professor, throwing off the pacing and leaving the impression that Parshall only wrote the book to debunk Freemasonry and show how dangerous it is.

Many Christian authors succumb to the belief that fiction is an excellent bully pulpit.  Others insist that the goal of fiction, much like films, is to entertain—and that any message contained therein should be one which allows the reader to see or not see that message, in the “those who have eyes to see and ears to hear” vein.  That’s what Jesus did when he told stories.  He merely pointed to the truth, using symbols and analogies.  Only his disciples were given the true meaning of his stories. 

Those who are used to the gospel being presented like a sermon in Christian fiction will probably enjoy the book for its thriller aspect.  Others—most likely those at whom that message is directed—could find it too pedantic and pushy.


**This review first published on May 5, 2009.