Review from The San Francisco Chronicle (Nov. 08)
If you haven't recently thought much about the lost writings of Aristotle, and even if you find the philosophical dialogue a soporific literary genre, you may well find yourself inclined otherwise while devouring "Black Market Truth," a "philosophical suspense thriller" and page-turner by Sharon Kaye.
Kaye's protagonist, the sexy, stylish and worldly academic Dana McCarter, is on a quest to find out the truth about Aristotle, religion and history. Unlike most of us who have dark secrets and write sometimes factual memoirs and entertain our therapists and more tolerant friends, Dana has a paying job dedicated to the investigation of dark secrets. She is the director of an NYU institute for the study of antiquity. In this capacity, she strives to unearth the roots of Western civilization.
Does she have her own demons? Funny you should ask. She is not immune to the allure of international illegal trafficking in black market manuscripts, for one thing. And she also has a childhood past that is riddled in a spectacular mystery, about which she eventually pieces together the clues that will give her, if not peace, some self-understanding.
The trouble begins when a stranger shows up in her office with a scroll that is the lost "Eroticus" of Aristotle. But to put it another way, the trouble really began for her long ago, when Christianity was founded and Aristotle came to be misunderstood.
The action: fast-paced. The atmospherics: plentiful and appealing. Break-in at Saint Paul's Basilica in Rome. Homicide. Ravaged sarcophagus. Suave inspector. Moonlight strolls in Red Square. New York. Taxi cab intensity in city traffic. Hotel mini-bar pre-sex cocktails. Conflicted-Italian-Catholic-cop sex. Unconflicted philosopher sex. Crimson-robed malevolent Italian prelates with names reminiscent of field goal kickers and catchers of the 1950s (Giuseppe Torelli). Filthy rich villains and filthy rich nice guys. Jaw-dropping secret rituals. Dionysian cultists. Virtual world visitation. Internet Web site "Second Life" as the location of all sorts of real/imaginary shenanigans/atrocities. Muslim Jihadists. Guns, knives, car crashes, glamorous Russians. More homicide. Aristotle.
Aristotle? Yes, he is the key for brilliant, questing researcher Dana. Up until now, you see, we may have had this ancient philosopher completely wrong. The scrolls that were stolen from the sarcophagus are the missing dialogues of Aristotle, about which nothing has been previously known except for the titles, like "The Eroticus," "The Symposium" and "The Nerinthus." Now, however, they are "translated" by her, and the translations are brimming with revelations. "... the key to the future lay in the secrets of the past. [Dana] knew that was true. If it was true for individual human beings, why wouldn't it be true for civilization itself."
What these scrolls, carefully guarded and hidden for so long, teach her could potentially unsettle the foundations of Christianity. If any number of interested parties get a hold of these dialogues (that's the big if that thrillerizes this book), the world will never be the same. There are some very dangerous, creepy people who want to control this material, and Dana is a reckless enough truth-seeker that everybody is coming after her.
To be honest, Kaye's first-novel prose can be a tad earnest. Characters tend to "pronounce" and "aver" things instead of saying them. Once or twice, somebody actually "enthused." The narrator is hardly somber; still, the jokes register on the wince-ometer. Kaye also has a stylistic tic, where the thoughts of characters speaking to themselves are italicized, the equivalent of bubbled thoughts appearing over their heads.
These are small complaints, for there's plenty of intelligence and energy and excitement. The narrator's drive sweeps one along, which is especially useful when the story depends on amazing coincidences and incredible turns that never fail to occur in real life but are (supposedly) scorned in fiction.
Perhaps it is easy to like a philosopher novelist who quotes Santayana authoritatively, appends a riveting (spoiler-alerted) afterword (discoursing on philosophical and historical quandaries) as well as a simple but intelligent glossary, and has written books about the cult television show "Lost," not to mention "Philosophy for Teens," and who remarks, "What historians tend to forget in their painstaking reconstruction of the past is that the truth is stranger than fiction." If so, then "Black Market Truth" might be just what the professor assigned for a plane ride, because what we like about fiction is that sometimes stories don't have to be true to tell a truth.
The San Francisco Chronicle ( Joe Di Prisco) November 10, 2008
"Fast-paced, daring, and very entertaining, Black Market Truth is the quirkiest of readsa cerebral thriller. Novelist Sharon Kaye scarcely stops for air as she weaves Dionysian cultists, Aristotle and five stolen scrolls into a rollicking tale of international intrigue, betrayal, and conspiracy." Heather Pringle, Contributing Editor of Archaeology Magazine, author of The Mummy Congress, recipient of the Science Journalism Award
"As inventive a resuscitation of Aristotle's lost works as The Name of the Rose. Perpetrating up-to-date terrorism in cyber-Augustan Rome, probing Aristotle's biography and (re)inventing the dialogues so as to place him at the head now of all western thought, or carving a niche for the preservation of a Dionysian cult right under our noseKaye's characters and their motives prove plausible in the most unpredictable ways. Dr. Dana McCarter bolts into adventure with verve and swagger. She extends high-power doctoral training in classical philosophy and paleography through all the paces. She's alluring, mostly scrupled, and sumptuously endowed with an expense account that just won't quit!"
Roger T. Macfarlane, Professor of Classics, and Director of the Ancient Textual Imaging Group at Brigham Young University
“This is a rip-roaring, fast-paced detective-mystery-thriller, school of The Da Vinci Code, full of surprises: a murder opens an international hunt uncovering a sinister conspiracy to hide secrets that would undermine the foundations of Christianity. Inserted into the contemporary action are recreations of Aristotle's lost works and his lovers' diaries: these brilliant, lively, contemporary-sounding inventions reveal, in their own way, more about The Philosopher and his time than any number of stodgy scholarly works. And there's a crazy plausibility to the gradually revealed story about where Christianity came from, and the Vatican conspiracy to keep it secret. An astoundingly original way to write philosophy: a funny, sexy, hugely entertaining page-turner, extremely interesting, entirely delightful.”
Dr. Robert Martin, Professor of Philosophy, Editor of The Dalhousie Review, author of Philosophical Conversations and There Are Two Errors in the the Title of this Book
"Brings Aristotle to life in an entertaining and dramatic way."
Author of Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters