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Book review: <i>Map of Bones</i> by James Rollins

Poor James Rollins. He wanted to be the next Dan Brown with this little historico-conspiracy-theory set in the Vatican and a host of other exotic locations, impossibly laden with handsome brave protagonists. And so many plot twists your head will spin—while the rest of your mind thinks “how do they DO it in just four days?”. I’ve never read Mr Rollins before... he was the least offensive selection in the book exchange at the hostel I was staying in at the time, and while he didn’t inspire feelings of nausea in me the way James Patterson does, I still don’t think I’d leap at the chance to purchase any of his previous six novels for more than a dollar.

The story

There’s a distinctly annoying emo with his emo girlfriend, heading into a church service in Germany. All of a sudden, the church is stormed by armed intruders dressed up as monks and carnage ensues, stealing the priceless and precious bones of the Magi on their way out.

The Vatican gets a little freaked out, and the Carabinieri’s Rachel Verona, whose Uncle is ensconced in a position of Vatican power, heads up an investigation into the incident. But of course, it’s all a bit much for anybody but the Americans, so once again Europe bows to the superiority of the yanks and call in the elite SIGMA force team—a covert arm of the US defense force, headed up by... ahem... Grayson Pierce. And yes. At this point I did check the cover to see if the book had morphed into Mills and Boon.

With their collection of expertise and dazzling good looks, SIGMA force get onto solving the mystery. But as they delve, they find themselves entering the realm of historico-religious conspiracy, and enter into a fierce battle with and ancient fraternity who are desperate to keep their secrets to themselves... the Dragon Court.

SIGMA have to try to solve the mystery, save the world, and keep it from being destroyed by the Dragon Court. But it’s not easy. The Dragon Court are always one step ahead of them. But who is the mysterious woman who keeps sparing Grayson’s life? And is the Dragon Court closer to home than they think? And of course, can SIGMA save the world before it’s too late?

The style

You can tell Rollins wanted to be the next Dan Brown. Map of Bones reads like a treatment for a movie—actions all spelled out, dialogue-able character histories, and a hot young team of go getters just screaming for the French star of “Amelie” as the love-interest and someone MUCH hotter than Tom Hanks as the American dude. The narrative is third person limited from various different points of view, as is the popular style for thrillers, and this works fine, except for the author’s selfconsciousness working its way into the writing. It’s a bit clumsy and very unrealistic, with all the characters stereotyped to the max and nothing overly three dimensional in any of the plot or characterisation. Like I said, it’s fine as a movie treatment, I suppose.

The character of Grayson was the most developed; he was a bit tortured and might just scrape in to a thin three dimensions. But I think Rollins was trying a bit too hard with him, and it made Grayson awkward as a character and a little wooden. And of course, the inevitable love affair, while mercifully brief and not over-written (thank god for that) was embarrassingly bad.

The worst character was Rachel’s grandmother, who was the very epitome of a stereotype of an Italian grandmother, spoke in an appalling approximation of bad English, and was just awfully done. SHE needs some work for the movie version, I tell you.

But while the writing just scraped in as bearable and the plot was all a bit too enthusiastic, it was slightly more gripping conspiracy wise than The Da Vinci Code. And so much less annoying, because you can tell that Rollins has a real interest in his subject and wasn’t just “allegedly” ripping off some other guys who had previously written the same story (ahem. Not that those lawsuits ever came to fruition.) On the other hand, it still took me a while to get into, and then to get through, while keeping a straight face.

Who is this book for?

I’m not saying get out to the nearest book shop and purchase it immediately. I’m not saying read it. I’m not even saying that if you start reading it and then find it to be trite and badly written to stick it out to the end of the 512 pages. What I AM saying is, if you stuck out The Da Vinci Code, then you should really give Mr Rollins a chance. It’s like Indiana Jones but less amusing. And you can appreciate the unrealistic and inconsistent nature of characters, the average writing and the fun-filled plot (and who doesn’t love a conspiracy centered around Catholics? I mean really).

If you were to purchase this book for another person, I would recommend it for: anyone who enjoyed The Da Vinci Code; a young teenage boy relative who doesn’t read that much and possibly is filling with religious zeal; or someone at a hostel in a foreign country who needs something to read and has nothing else but James Patterson to choose from.

This book wasn’t fabulous. But it could have been a lot worse.

If you like this book, you would also like...

Let’s assume you would like his others (even though I haven’t read them). You would probably also like those light pulpy thriller authors—okay, so I can’t think of many names off hand—they aren’t that memorable. I’ll keep you posted.

In short

Title Map of Bones
Author James Rollins
Publisher Orion
ISBN 0752881213
Year 2005
Pages 512
Review Type: 


Woof, just read Map of Bones.....don't bother. What a collection of impossible garbage! I am sorry but my 12 year old Daughter could write a better plot.

James Rollins authored lots of books in the same genre way before famous and controversial Dan Brown wrote Da Vinci Code. I like Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, aside from that....well... With James Rollins, he narrates well without the boring parts and I like all his novels. That's all. It's just a matter of perception