Solving an ancient riddle
Fans of Dan Brown's wildly popular novel The Da Vinci Code, and the myriad comparable books it spawned Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason's The Rule of Four, Leslie Silbert's The Intelligencer, Lev Grossman's Codex, etc. will undoubtedly enjoy Matt Bondurant's debut novel, The Third Translation. Set in modern-day London, the story follows American Egyptologist Dr. Walter Rothschild in the last days of his contract with the British Museum to solve the riddle of the Stela of Paser, a funerary stone that is one of the last remaining cryptographic puzzles of the ancient world. The hieroglyphic artifact, which supposedly holds arcane knowledge of the dead and insights into the afterlife, contains enigmatic instructions stating that the writing must be translated three different ways to unlock its secrets.
As Rothschild comes closer to solving the ancient mystery, his already miserable personal life he's divorced, his adult daughter hates him and he shares a filthy attic apartment the size of a closet with an ill-tempered researcher obsessed with spicy foods and insecticides takes a dramatic turn for the worse. After meeting a controversial writer ( the next Salman Rushdie ) at a local pub, Rothschild overindulges in alcohol and narcotics and ends up taking a strange woman back to the museum. Later, he realizes she has used him to steal an invaluable artifact. Rothschild is told to reacquire it or else. Thus begins a hallucinatory quest through London's dark underbelly that involves drug dealers, pseudo-intellectual revolutionaries, bizarre cults and a professional wrestler named Gigantica.
While just as complex as Brown's The Da Vinci Code, Bondurant's debut is a more understated, intimate kind of thriller. A compelling amalgam of history, mysticism and suspense, The Third Translation is tantalizing brain candy highly recommended for history aficionados, conspiracy theorists and closet cryptographers alike.
Paul Goat Allen is a freelance editor and writer in Syracuse, New York.