Book Review: St Paul’s Labyrinth (Jeroen Windmeijer)

I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.

Goodreads Link | Author Website

Interesting story, but not my cup of tea.

TL;DR –A story of conspiracy, kidnapping and alternative theories on Christianity


Ragdoll Rating: 2.5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: People who enjoy religious conspiracy

About the Book…

When an unknown tunnel is discovered under the streets of Leiden, it’s an exciting time for historians. But when one colleague winds up dead, and another kidnapped, Peter de Haan’s life is about to get difficult. Peter is forced to follow a trail of clues to rescue his friend, and finds himself learning more and more about the mysterious cult of Mithras.

St Paul’s Labyrinth is story of religious conspiracy, and devotes a long time to offering an alternative explanation for the history of Christianty – so obviously, if that’s going to rub you the wrong way, probably best to avoid it.

What I thought…

This book has me split down the middle, and I’ll tell you for why. I picked up this book hoping for your standard religious conspiracy treasure hunt style story, which is exactly what I got. I just found myself hopping between liking and hating bits really rapidly.

What I liked about this book was the alternative history it provides. The book suggests, among other things, that Jesus and the rest of the Jewish people were totally fine with each other, until St Paul got spurned and humiliated by a Jewish priest and decided he was going to destroy Judaism. He did this, according to the book, by re-tooling the concept of Jesus, to fit around the existing story of Mithras, and then spreading it around. This caused a big divide in the Jewish faith, and sparked of Christianity which really is just a collection of rituals and stories about a completely different god. This is explored in considerable detail during the course of this book, and that’s sort of what bugs me. If you’d handed me this book and said “Here is a well referenced work of non-fiction explaining many of the inconsistencies in early Christianity” I would have eaten it up with a spoon. Religious history is my JAM. But it was a bit much in the middle of a fiction work, and I personally found that the story was less interesting than the religious history element, which was a bit jarring.

What I didn’t like was the quantity of analogies. This book is full of them, for completely random things. Things you would never think needed an example. Everything is ‘like’ this and ‘like’ that. I found it really, REALLY annoying, and I know that’s pretty petty, but it wrecked the flow of the book for me.

I also struggled to follow the book itself. Each chapter has a date, and they jump all over the place, but also I struggled to understand the motivations. The main character, for example, seems to be expecting some sort of religious quest to drop into his lap, as he is waaaay to into the whole thing long before his colleague is kidnapped. He runs from the police after his other colleague disappears for no apparent reason at all, and then keeps going. Also, the book declares that Peter is not a Robert Langdon-esque super genius, and yet he still manages to solve a myriad of random clues in no time flat, something I don’t imagine your average professor would be able to do. I don’t know why this bothered me.

Final Thoughts…

I personally would have loved to see this book split into two, a fiction book containing a heavily reduced quantity of religious explanations, and a non-fiction book giving the background to the whole thing. Alas, it was not to be.

Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: The Road to Vermilion Lake (Vic Cavalli)

Goodreads Link | Author Website

A love story that left me banging my head against a wall.

TL;DR – The tale of a blossoming romance between two unlikely lovers.



Why I read it…

I was lucky enough to have the author offer me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Story…

TW: Contains descriptions of bodily mutilation, sexual content, drug use, and sexual assault.

Thomas Tems is a blaster for a construction firm, building an idyllic residential area around a remote lake. Thomas soon forms a relationship with the architect behind the project, a brilliant young woman and devout Catholic, called Johnny.

The Road to Vermilion Lake explores their budding relationship, the difficulties that come from the clash of religious backgrounds,  and the troubled histories of the characters, and the frantic search for Johnny’s missing sister.

What I liked…

In it’s purest form, I enjoyed this story. I read it all over the space of a day, so something about it must have grabbed me.

I enjoyed reading about the building relationship between Thomas and Johnny. Johnny, as a devout Catholic, has a great deal of extra rules about what constitutes morality that are alien to Johnny, particularly around intimacy and sex. It was interesting seeing how the pair worked together to navigate a potentially difficult situation, even going so far as to create a map of morally appropriate places on Johnny’s body that could be touched before marriage. It was bizarre, certainly, but it was really nice to see a really thorough and clear example of how consent and communication can and should work in a relationship. Which, incidentally, is something I will come back to in a moment.

I also enjoyed, much to my surprise, the character building behind behind Thomas’ best friend Dave. Dave is introduced as the kind of man who ruts about the bars, having one night stands with women whose names he never bothers to learn. I was all prepared to hate him, which I suppose was very much the point. but Dave’s character is fleshed out, and we learn about his troubled past as a drug addict, ex-con and artist. He builds a relationship with Johnny’s sister while she is in the hospital, and falls apart when she leaves him to go to New York. His story is incredibly sad, and builds beautifully.

Finally, and I suppose this goes back to my first point a little, but I really loved the way this book dealt with the realities of love and lust, in particular with the theme of temptation. Cavalli introduces a character, Carol, who appears outside Thomas’ trailer on even, stinking drunk and looking for Dave. Carol is, by all accounts a beautiful woman, who basically throws herself on Thomas. Thomas’ temptation is explored at this point. He is madly in love with Johnny, who he is dating happily, but she is in New York, and he has urges. What I love about this scene is not the fact that he resisted, but the fact that he came so close to giving in, panicked and then ran off to make arrangements for this random drunkard to be cared for overnight. It’s so real and so human and it makes Thomas a stronger person when Carol comes knocking a second time.

What I disliked…

I have to preface this section with a quote from the book, you’ll see why in a minute.

“I was reading Faulkner’s Light in August. I’d never read him before and I was stunned by his genius. He’d just taken 10 pages to allow a mule to walk thirty feet…”

This quote comes in, according to my kindle, 89% of the way through the book. Which means for almost the entire book I found myself reading descriptions that where anywhere between somewhat excessive and needlessly clinical. The descriptions of gun related topic, for example, read like they were lifted verbatim from a gun catalogue. Don’t get me wrong, my favourite book (Les Miserables – Victor Hugo) is, at times, full of mind-numbing description that make you want to tear the book in half, so Cavalli is in not alone in a love for excess description, but it still bugged me. Hence the quote. It at least demonstrates that it was done on purpose for artistic reasons I don’t understand or appreciate.

Now we come to my big gripe and return to the concept of consent I mentioned earlier. Johnny sets out extremely clear boundaries as they begin their relationship, and I mean extremely clear. The map I mentioned earlier? Four perfect diagrams of Johnny’s body, front, back and both sides, show exactly where Thomas was permitted to touch and where he was forbidden. In terms of consent, this is about as explicit as it can possibly get. Which is why I was so furious when Thomas did this:

I gently caressed her there, knowing full well I was in a no entry zone…

Now after this, Johnny was more or less OK with this, but Thomas broke the explicitly stated rules of consent, so what this is, is a sexual assault. One that he knows full well he is committing and just doesn’t care, in fact he even seems proud of it, turning Thomas from a good, relatable character into someone I can’t stand. I know consent can change as things go along, but he makes no attempt what-so-ever to try and find out if it’s OK, presumably because he knows it won’t be.

There are a few other minor gripes like the use of the word “rump” which just made me laugh, but they are overshadowed by the last bit.

Final thoughts…

I enjoyed the story, I was bothered by the description and I hated the male lead. I’m not sure what to make of that. I feel a bit mean only giving this book a 2.5 rating, because I did enjoy the story itself. I think if the excess descriptions were cut down and it was made into a short story I would love it, but there you are…

Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!