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The Sacred Bones

The Sacred Bones

4.1 35
by Michael Byrnes

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At the crossroads of Christian, Islamic, and Jewish faiths, an ancient artifact is stolen from a long-hidden vault located directly beneath Jerusalem's Temple Mount . . .

So begins The Sacred Bones by Michael Byrnes, a page-turning novel from a new voice on the thriller scene. With the violent theft leaving thirteen Israeli soldiers and policemen


At the crossroads of Christian, Islamic, and Jewish faiths, an ancient artifact is stolen from a long-hidden vault located directly beneath Jerusalem's Temple Mount . . .

So begins The Sacred Bones by Michael Byrnes, a page-turning novel from a new voice on the thriller scene. With the violent theft leaving thirteen Israeli soldiers and policemen dead, and the Palestinians up in arms over the desecration of sacred grounds, the tension between the two groups is dangerously high. Jerusalem is a stick of dynamite and the fuse has been lit. . . .

Across the Mediterranean in Italy, American forensic scientist Charlotte Hennesey has been hired by the Vatican to examine the contents of a newly discovered archeological treasure: a two-thousand-year-old ossuary containing the bones of an unidentified, crucified man—the first complete skeleton of a crucifixion victim ever found. Together with Italian anthropologist Giovanni Bersei, Charlotte makes startling forensic and genetic discoveries that lead her to wonder—could these be the bones of Jesus Christ?

With the situation in Jerusalem veering out of control and the malevolent eye of Vatican security expert Salvatore Conte watching her every step, Charlotte puts two and two together. She knows that if the mortal remains of Christ are indeed in the burial box, the implications—for history and science, for religion and the Church—are frighteningly vast. And even more immediate is the question of whether the Vatican will allow the information—and Charlotte—to see the light of day.

Fast-paced and intelligent, blending historical fact with persuasive fiction, The Sacred Bones reads like a CSI episode penned by The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown. From a conspiracy stretching back to the days of the Templar Knights to the shifting alliances of contemporary Middle Eastern politics, The Sacred Bones is an addictively compelling thriller that calls into question many of modern religion's deepest-held beliefs about Judaism, Jesus Christ and early Christianity, and Islam . . . with stunning results.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

In Byrnes's improbable debut thriller, the styles of Dan Brown and Michael Crichton collide. An ancient artifact hidden under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is stolen in a violent robbery, and many dead bodies are left in its wake. Meanwhile, a forensic scientist receives an invitation to study the bones from what appears to be a 2000-year-old tomb. As the research progresses, the evidence leads to a shocking hypothesis: Could the bones be the remains of Jesus Christ? As in a Crichton novel, the characters exist solely to spout history and theories. Backstories and discussion are clunky at times, halting the narrative pace; an afterword seems necessary, but Byrnes's novel lacks one. Fans of historical thrillers with religious overtones will eat this up; however, if it had been written with stronger characterization and better blending of fact and fiction, it could have become a classic. Recommended for larger fiction collections.
—Jeff Ayers Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

Kirkus Reviews
Brigands in the employ of the Vatican swipe a fancy stone box from a secret chamber under the holiest and most fought-over spot in Jerusalem. Guess whose 2,000-year-old bones are in the box?There is, apparently, no end to the demand for tales of treachery and centuries-long deceit on the part of the Catholic Church, where there is, it seems, nothing going on these days but treachery and, yes, deceit. Debut novelist Byrnes's entry pits Vatican heavies against relatively noble Muslims and the usual unscrupulous but dazzlingly effective Jews, when mercenaries hired by the Pope's Secretary of State, Cardinal Santelli, use a hijacked Israeli army helicopter to spirit away the most elaborate of nine ossuaries hidden centuries ago by the Knights Templar just prior to their elimination by the French King and his evil papal ally. Cardinal Santelli has appointed Father Donovan, the Vatican librarian, to see whose bones are in the box, and Donovan has in turn employed Charlotte Hennessy, a beautiful American scientist secretly dying of bone cancer, and Giovanni Bersei, an Italian married to Italy's only Bad Cook, to do the scientific testing. As the scientists run their tests in Rome, back in the Holy Land the Muslims and Jews point fingers, knives and guns at each other over the loss of the box, and stumble over each other trying to find who took it. Graham Barton, a scholar hired by the Israelis to identify the remaining evidence in the secret chamber, is the only religiously neutral player. He's quick to identify the remains as belonging to the family of Joseph of Arimathea, the wealthy Jew who offered his own tomb as a burial site for Jesus after the crucifixion. In Vatican City, the scientistsuse powerful software to reconstruct the body that went with the bones. Gee! He's extremely good-looking. And buff. Holy cow. Unimpressive, gee-whiz fare.
Publishing News (UK)
“A terrific thriller melding biblical puzzles with modern-day archaeology and the immense knowledge...gleaned by forensic science. Action-driven...”
Bookseller (UK)
“A breathless race through real historical fact laced generously with artistic license. …An immensely enjoyable read.”
Hampstead & Highgate Express (UK)
“ …A pacy read with plenty of surprises…”
Simcha Jacobovici
“Exciting, intelligent and incredibly true to life.”

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Chapter One

Present Day

Salvatore Conte never questioned his clients' motives. His many missions had taught him how to remain calm and keep focused. But tonight was different. Tonight he felt uneasy.

The eight men moved through the ancient streets. Entirely clothed in black, each was armed with lightweight Heckler & Koch XM8 carbines equipped with 100-round magazines and grenade launchers. Padding along the cobblestone in soft boots, every man scanned his surroundings with infrared night-vision goggles. History loomed all around them.

With an abrupt hand signal to hold position, Conte paced ahead.

He knew that his team was just as apprehensive. Though Jerusalem's name meant "City of Peace," this place defined turmoil. Each silent road was bringing them closer to its divided heart.

The men had traveled separately from a handful of European countries, convening two days earlier at an apartment leased in a quiet part of the Jewish Quarter overlooking Battei Makhase Square, their accommodation booked under one of Conte's numerous aliases, "Daniel Marrone."

On arrival Conte had played tourist to familiarize himself with the web of alleyways and winding streets surrounding the thirty-five-acre rectangular monument in the center of the fortified Old City—a massive complex of bulwarks and retaining walls standing thirty-two meters high that resembled a colossal monolith laid flat upon Mount Moriah's steep ridge. Easily the world's most contested parcel of real estate, the Islamic Haram esh-Sharif, or "Noble Sanctuary," was more familiar by another name—Temple Mount.

As the cover of buildings gave way to thetowering western wall, he motioned two men forward. The wall-mounted floodlights cast long shadows. Conte's men would blend easily into the dark pockets, but then so could the Israeli Defense Force soldiers.

The endless dispute between Jews and Palestinians had made this the most heavily guarded city in the world. However, Conte knew that the IDF was rife with conscripts—teenage boys whose sole purpose was to fulfill three-year service requirements and no match for his hardened team.

He peered ahead, his night-vision goggles transforming the shadows to eerie green. The area was clear except for two soldiers loitering fifty meters away. They were armed with M-16s, donning standard-issue olive green fatigues, bulletproof vests, and black berets. Both men were smoking Time Lite cigarettes, Israel's most popular—and, to Conte, most offensive—brand.

Glancing over to their intended entry point at Moors' Gate, an elevated gateway on the platform's western wall, Conte quickly surmised there was no way to gain access to the Temple Mount without being detected.

Shifting his fingers along the barrel, he flicked the XM8 to single-shot mode and mounted the rifle on his left shoulder. He targeted the first green ghost with the red laser, aiming for the head, using the glowing butt of the dangling cigarette as a guide. Though the XM8's titanium rounds were capable of piercing the soldier's Kevlar vest, Conte found no sport—let alone certainty—in body shots.

One shot. One kill.

His index finger gently squeezed.

There was a muffled retort, slight recoil, and he saw the target buckle at the knees.

The scope shifted to the remaining man.

Before the second IDF soldier had begun to comprehend what was happening, Conte had fired again, the round penetrating the man's face and cartwheeling through the brain.

He watched him collapse and paused. Silence.

It never ceased to amaze him just how token the expression "defense" really was—offering little more than a word to make people feel secure. And though his native country had a laughable military competence, in his own way, he felt he had become its equalizer.

Another abrupt hand signal ushered his men onto the sloping walkway approaching Moors' Gate. To his left, he glimpsed the Western Wall Plaza nestled along the embankment's base. Yesterday he had marveled at the Orthodox Jews—men separated from women by a curtained partition—who gathered here to mourn the ancient temple they believed had once graced this holy place. On his right lay a small valley littered with excavated foundations—Jerusalem's oldest ruins.

A substantial iron gate sealed with a deadbolt denied access to the platform. In less than fifteen seconds the lock had been picked and his team funneled through the tunneled entrance, fanning out across the broad esplanade beyond.

Slipping past the stout El-Aqsa Mosque abutting Temple Mount's southern wall, Conte turned his gaze to the esplanade's center where just over tall cypress trees, a second and much grander mosque stood on an elevated platform, its gilded cupola illuminated like a halo against the night sky. The Dome of the Rock—embodiment of Islam's claim over the Holy Land.

Conte led the team to the esplanade's southeast corner where a wide opening accommodated a modern staircase, cascading downward. He splayed the fingers of his gloved right hand and four men disappeared below the surface. Then he signaled the remaining two men to hunker down in the nearby tree shadows to secure a perimeter.

The air in the passage became moist the further the men descended, then abruptly cold, giving off a mossy aroma. Once they had assembled at the base of the steps, rifle-mounted halogen lights were switched on. Crisp, luminous beams bisected the darkness to reveal a cavernous, vaulted space with arched stanchions laid out on neat avenues.

Conte remembered reading that twelfth-century Crusaders had used this subterranean room as a horse stable. The Muslims, its latest occupants, had recently converted it into a mosque, but the Islamic decor did little to mask its uncanny resemblance to a subway station.

Running his light along the room's eastern wall, he was pleased to spot the two brown canvas bags his local contact had promised. "Gretner," he addressed the thirty-five-year-old explosives expert from Vienna. "Those are for you."

The Austrian retrieved them.

Slinging his carbine over his shoulder, Conte took a folded paper from his pocket and switched on a penlight. The map showed the exact location of what they'd been charged to procure—he didn't favor references to "stealing"—the term demeaned his professionalism. He aimed the penlight along the wall.

The Sacred Bones
A Novel
. Copyright © by Michael Byrnes. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Simcha Jacobovici
“Exciting, intelligent and incredibly true to life.”

Meet the Author

Michael Byrnes attended Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey, and earned his graduate degree in business administration at Rutgers. Byrnes lives in Florida with his wife, Caroline, and daughters, Vivian and Camille.

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Sacred Bones 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 34 reviews.
bonita33 More than 1 year ago
Michael Byrnes reveals to us the ancient mysteries of the Holy Land. I feel this is a must-read for all men and women who are seeking a deeper understanding of themselves and their power as children of God!
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you enjoy historical novels in the Dan Brown vein, then I believe you'll enjoy Sacred Bones. I couldn't put it down, it's smooth pace and enjoyable characters kept me reading long into the night.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Must read
Novembers_Saturday More than 1 year ago
This is a great story with a fictional story line but based on lots of historical facts. Read lots of this genre and this is certainly near the top of the list. I couldn't put it down for long and found myself planning my escapes from life to read a couple more chapters!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great read. Picked it up an it reminded me of dan brown. It has a sequel too.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
zealousreader More than 1 year ago
i love the plot and the writing style of the author , however i hate how the ending leaves u with more questions than answers . i would definitely recommend it as a good read.
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dustoffrvn More than 1 year ago
One of the best books in a long time !
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LinOH More than 1 year ago
This book has something for everyone: A religous back drop, love, murder, science, you name it. I thoroughly enjoyed it!
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