From A. L. Shields—pseudonym for New York Times bestselling author Stephen L. Carter—comes the thrilling sequel to The Church Builder.
It began as a search for the truth about her best friend’s death. Now Bethany Barclay is caught in the ultimate struggle to keep faith alive.
The Wilderness, an ancient cabal bent on destroying Christianity, has murdered Bethany’s best friend, framed her for acts of terrorism, and captured the brilliant teen hacker she vowed to protect. To ransom the girl, Bethany must traverse England and Europe to find the Pilate Stone—a mysterious first-century artifact that might not even exist.
She’s not the only one who wants the stone. The Garden, a powerful group of intellectuals sworn to save the Church and help Bethany, is willing to betray her to achieve their higher goals. And a mysterious third faction lurks in the shadows, waiting for her to stumble.
Alone and on the run in this international landscape of double and triple agents, Bethany’s quest becomes an ever more complex and dangerous contest against players who don’t play fair.
In this riveting sequel to The Church Builder, many of A. L. Shield’s cunning characters are ruthlessly devoted to preserving a world where faith is possible. Others aim to brutally, and finally, undermine belief.
About the Author
A. L. Shields is a pseudonym for Stephen L. Carter, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale, where he has taught for thirty years. He is also the author of seven acclaimed works of nonfiction and five best-selling novels. His first novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park (2002), spent eleven weeks on the New York Times best seller list.
Read an Excerpt
By A. L. Shields
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2015 A. L. Shields
All rights reserved.
There's a bishop in São Paulo with his hand in the till," says Ralph Kelvin.
"I've spoken to Elliott. His papers will give the story big play."
"Excellent," says Lillian Hartshorne.
Ralph eyes the old woman uneasily. Usually any bit of bad news touching a church will rouse her into an excited tirade about how the inherent contradictions of belief in God must lead inevitably to the final collapse of faith. But she will be eighty-six next month, he reminds himself, and it is possible that age is finally taking its toll.
He tries again. "That mess in Munich last week. Turns out one or two of the rioters were wearing crosses around their necks. If we're subtle and don't push the point too hard, by the end of the month the whole world will be describing it as a mob of fundamentalist Christians."
"Very fine work," says Lillian, her somber gaze focused beyond the wide windows, out toward the rain-swept grounds of her vast Virginia estate.
Ralph toys with his short, bristly beard. His old friend's listlessness troubles him. They are sitting together in an octagonal conservatory attached to the family wing of her rambling house. The walls and ceiling are mostly glass. On a bright summer's day, sunlight would be streaming in, but as the stormy June dusk settles over the grounds, the room feels sad and gray.
"Is something on your mind?" he finally asks.
"Given my responsibilities, something is always on my mind."
But the effort at snappish derision comes off as merely querulous, and Ralph refuses to be deterred. He is a sometime philosophy professor who's published popular books on subjects ranging from the social culture of the anthill to the history of the Milky Way. At seventy-one, he remains in great demand on the talk show and lecture circuits. He never misses Davos or Sun Valley. He and Lillian have served together on the Council for decades. They have conspired together, kept secrets together, subverted government officials together, authorized the occasional killing together. Lillian is usually bursting with a cynical energy, brilliant and cutting and full of ideas. Ralph has seen her toughness in times of crisis. He has seen her self-possession at moments of personal loss.
He has never seen her like this.
"Is there news of Bethany?" Ralph finally asks, because he cannot imagine another reason for Lillian's listlessness. "Is that why you asked me to come?"
"Apparently two FBI agents stopped her at Dulles." The old woman toys with a lock of the snowy hair she keeps clipped mannishly short. The aged eyes continue to gaze at the landscape. "They interviewed her, and then she boarded a flight to London."
Ralph selects his words with care. "I take it we were involved in the decision to release her."
"Then you take it incorrectly. We had nothing to do with the decision." She clenches a delicate fist on the arm of her chair. "We have assets over there. They've been activated, of course, but we can't tell them where to look. We found out too late to have her flight met."
"I don't understand. Why did the FBI let her go?"
"I have no idea, Ralph. All our people can find out so far is that the agent who let her board the plane is likely to lose his job."
"Maybe it was an accident. Incompetence."
"And maybe pigs have wings."
A brief interruption as Lillian's chief of staff steps inside. He is a slender, arrogant young man named Kenny Atwood, and Ralph secretly considers him slime. Kenny hands his boss a blue message slip and, smirking, leaves the room.
Lillian looks up from the paper. Ralph fancies he can hear her teeth grinding. "It seems they've given her a new code name. They're calling her Wakeful. Seems fitting, doesn't it? Our people were asleep on the job, so to speak, and so Wakeful got away."
"That's what the note says?"
"Never mind what the note says."
Ralph toys with his coffee cup. He would prefer something stronger, but Lillian, whose doctors no longer allow her to partake, has banned alcohol from the premises.
"What is it you'd like me to do?" he asks.
"I need you to go and see Findrake for me."
Rainstorm or no, Ralph knows that the sudden chill in the room is his imagination, but he fights a shiver all the same. Nobody on the Council mentions Simon Findrake. Ever. The very name conjures madness and mayhem, a past Ralph had thought well buried. And here is Lillian, digging it up again.
So Ralph says nothing and waits for the rest.
Lillian takes her time. She continues to watch the grim gray rain beyond the glass. "I also must ask that you refrain from informing anyone else on the Council where you are going or why."
"You want me to see Findrake without permission from the Council?"
"I alone am Lord Protector. Never forget that. It is for me to decide what the Council hears and doesn't hear."
Actually, Ralph Kelvin remembers no such rule, but this hardly seems the moment to argue the point.
"And why am I going to see ... that man?"
Slowly, slowly, Lillian swivels toward him. Despite her faded vitality, the pale blue eyes are sharp, almost aglow.
"You are going to see Findrake because I trust you more than I do any other member of the Council. When I depart, you will be running things. Everyone understands that. No, no, spare me your reassurances. They are a waste of precious time. Listen carefully." Her small hands are like fine porcelain on the arms of her chair. "As far as the Council are aware, the reason Bethany Barclay is a threat to us is that she might find the Pilate Stone—if it exists—and turn it over to the adversary."
"You're saying there's another reason?"
"The Pilate Stone is important to us, Ralph. I won't pretend otherwise. But that isn't why you have to see Findrake." Lillian leans toward him now, her small oval face pained and imploring. "Findrake has to be on our side in this Bethany thing. He cannot sit on the sidelines. Only a personal emissary will make him see that."
"I don't understand. I thought the whole point was that Bethany Barclay would follow the breadcrumbs left by her friend Annabelle. And Annabelle was on the track of the Pilate Stone."
"That's not all she was on the track of."
Ralph declines the offer of a guest cottage for the night, so Kenny has a driver sent around to take him back to the city, where he has reserved his usual suite at the Mandarin Oriental with its splendid view of the Potomac River. Tomorrow he has media interviews and, in the evening, a lecture at American University. He hopes the protestors will be out in force. He might even invite a couple up onto the stage. He adores cutting their silly arguments to shreds.
* * *
The rain is worse. The town car is crawling cautiously along the narrow country lanes. Farmhouses and weekend McMansions mix uneasily out here, but tonight both are equally invisible in the storm. It is the middle of June and the trees are full and lush, but just now, heavy with water, they sag over the road, low branches brushing the windows like bones.
That is what has Lillian Hartshorne spooked.
A photograph of a silly love-struck girl, taken a long time ago, and stolen by Annabelle Seaver before she was killed.
Ralph leans back and shuts his eyes. He should call his wife to say good night, but he must first let his fury abate. A missing photograph—and so he has to see Findrake. Findrake!
This is not the sort of mistake their side is supposed to make. The Council is smooth and efficient. The fanatics on the other side blunder about constantly, hamstrung as they are by the confusion you'd expect from people who always have to stop and wonder whether they are offending their God.
But this time ...
This time, a photograph that could bring down the Council is in the wild. Ralph asked the Lord Protector how she knew that the photograph was still hidden.
Because we haven't been arrested, she said cheerlessly. Because we're still alive.
A photograph for the sake of which Ralph will tomorrow call his agent and cancel the rest of his lecture tour, then board a plane the next day to head for Britain, to meet a man he has profoundly hoped never to see—
"Hang on!" cries the driver, and Ralph bolts upright, just in time to see the onrushing truck as it slams into the car, collapsing the front end and spinning it into a ditch. Upside down. Ralph is stunned, half-conscious, bleeding in the back seat. He can actually see, in the flickering light, a white sliver of bone protruding from his arm.
Odd that there is no pain.
He hears shouts in the darkness. Two men are crouching beside the car. One checks the driver's pulse and nods. The other studies Ralph's broken body, then reaches through the shattered window as if to give him a hand. Instead, he covers the injured man's mouth and pinches his nose shut. Ralph struggles feebly, but his assailant continues to squeeze until the philosopher and sage goes still. His final thought is that the adversary doesn't have the verve to kill in the interests of its mission. The puzzle of who might have orchestrated his murder chases Ralph Kelvin into darkness.CHAPTER 2
Oxford had changed little but prided itself on precisely that. An aching Bethany Barclay alighted from the self-described luxury bus after two crushing hours from London. Had she known her new cryptonym she would have heartily endorsed it, because she had managed little sleep during the trip. The bus had spent most of the journey mired in traffic, and Bethany had felt claustrophobia creep up on her, surrounded as she was by noisy young people and their backpacks and their phones and their tablets and their music, all of them, to her twenty-nine-year-old eye, even more self-involved than she had been at that age. But she was a fugitive, and beggars can't be choosers.
The bus dropped its passengers on the south side of the High Street, just down the block from St. Edmund Hall. The morning was chilly. Wisps of fog clung to the landscape. Bethany stood on the pavement to get her bearings. All Souls was up the road, and she remembered how her moral philosophy tutor had urged her to put in an application for the Examination Fellowship, often described as the most difficult test in the world—and how, having grown up without money, she had decided to return to the States and attend law school instead.
"You probably wouldn't have passed anyway," was Annabelle's clumsy reassurance: but Annabelle was like that. And if Bethany had never set out to discover how her running buddy had died, she would not be on the run from the FBI, and certainly wouldn't be—
"Pardon me," said a young man from close beside her. "Are you in or out?"
At first Bethany thought he must belong to one side or the other—she thought of pretty much everyone that way now—and she began looking around for a place to flee to. Then she realized that he sought no more than entrance to the Queen's Lane Coffee House, and that she, in her moment of reminiscence, was blocking the door.
* * *
She walked through the morning haze, the tall Gothic buildings as mighty and intimidating as they were designed to be, even though Bethany had spent two postgraduate years here back in the days when nobody had heard of the iPad or The Hunger Games, MySpace was the chic social network, and the American economy was set to grow forever. Studying at Oxford after Barnard had thrilled her. She had grown up in rural Virginia and North Carolina, in a family where even a year of junior college was a rare thing.
She had, for the most part, loved her time at Oxford and had always hoped to return.
She could never have imagined the circumstances.
They had taken Janice. It was that simple. Bethany was in Oxford because Janice Stafford, with whom she had spent the past few weeks on the run, was now a prisoner. Janice Stafford, veteran member of bllnet, considered one of the most dangerous hacker groups in the world. Janice Stafford, about nine different kinds of genius. Janice Stafford, sixteen years old, fresh and excited and optimistic about the world.
And now a hostage to Bethany's performance.
She was worried sick, and worried sick was exactly what they wanted.
Unless Bethany delivered the Pilate Stone in the next two weeks, Janice would die.
The existence of the Pilate Stone had been rumored for centuries: a limestone block on which Pontius Pilate had left a message relating to the life and works of Jesus Christ.
Annabelle had been on the trail of the Pilate Stone when a car ran her down in Washington three months ago. Bethany was her best friend. That was the reason for her enforced recruitment to Annabelle's mysterious cause. Bethany alone could follow the clues she had left behind, including cryptic notes saying that she had seen the Wise Man. When asked what this might mean, Bethany had professed mystification, but she knew—and Annabelle would have known that she knew. The moral philosophy professor who had tried to push Bethany toward All Souls had been a pompous little tyrant named Adrian Wisdom, and "Wise Man" had been her own secret nickname for him.
She had told no one but Annabelle.
In order to trace Annabelle's peregrinations, therefore, Bethany had no choice but to return to Oxford, to figure out what the Wise Man might have said to her. All in all a very sound plan, except for the minor detail that the Wise Man had died of congestive heart failure two years ago.
Whereas Annabelle's visit—when she said she saw him—had been six months ago.
Her first thought had been that Annabelle must have been referring to his headstone, but a quick search at an Internet café in Baltimore had turned up the news that Wisdom had been cremated, his ashes scattered at sea, in accordance with his final wish to take up no space that could be put to better use.
And so Bethany was here, back in Oxford at last, tromping through the morning damp as the buildings receded into the thin blue mist. Oxford had to be the place. Whatever Annabelle meant by her claim to have spoken to Adrian Wisdom six months ago, it had to have happened here.
Bethany crossed Magdalen Bridge as students whizzed past on their bicycles and bemused dons sneaked glances at her, trying to remember who she was, because with her tall, strong body, intelligent eyes, and flowing, confident stride, she had to be somebody. Raymond Fuentes, during the single day he'd devoted to briefing her, had told her that two-thirds of fitting in is believing you fit in. Not acting. Believing.
And so Bethany believed. She made eye contact, she smiled, she belonged, anybody could see it, nobody challenged her, even when she joined a pair of early joggers and slipped through the gates into Magdalen College.
Memory hit her like a blow.
Bethany staggered. Suddenly there was no avoiding the harshest of truths: she had been happy here. And, for a bright instant—as she turned a corner on the wide staircase, and the sunlight prisming through the stained glass dazzled her with an infinitude of heavenly color—for that single shining moment, Bethany almost grasped it, the elusive vision of an entire life lived another way, not solitarily but in connection with others, a life in which the books she loved served as adjuncts to relationships rather than substitutes for them. She had fallen in love during her time at Oxford, with a dullard named Plunkett who was reading Modern Languages, poorly, and whose well-regarded family owned bits of land here, bits of water there, and bits of money no place at all. Plunkett, who in his spare time wrote bad love poems with which to court her, had talked eagerly about the two of them settling down on his uncle's Yorkshire estate, raising children, and farming—farming! —and Bethany had run as fast as she could, which was fast indeed, back to the security of her books. She remembered the look of wounded confusion in his doe-like eyes, and how she had ached for him even as she refused his entreaties. Whatever the hole in her life, or in her soul, it would not be filled by the conventional, and when Annabelle asked her once what was so conventional about farming in Yorkshire, Bethany had snarled like a trapped animal.
Then the moment was past, and she was kicking herself for flirting with the temptation to sentimentality. This morning was neither a stroll down memory lane nor the occasion for romanticizing life. This morning was business, and life on the run had taught her that if you let your concentration slip for one second, you could be dead the next.
She found the familiar corner of the building without any trouble because her memory for places was nearly as perfect as her memory for people. She stood on the landing, looking down on the Fellows' Garden, and remembered walking on the cut stone path years ago, watching Plunkett and his new love giggling together a half dozen strides ahead, and leaning down and picking some delicate purple flower and, in a hidden rage, stripping its petals as cruelly as she could—
Excerpted from Wilderness Rising by A. L. Shields. Copyright © 2015 A. L. Shields. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Oh, What a Wicked Web is Weaved! Wilderness Rising is an action packed unpredictable thriller. It picks up where the first book, The Church Builder, stopped with the main character, Bethany Barclay, finding herself in England. She is attempting to piece together the mystery that has resulted in the death of her best friend, Annabelle. It also catapulted her from her small town law practice to a worldwide run for her life--while she tries to solve this mystery before she becomes the next victim. Along her journey she met a brilliant teenage girl, Janice, who insisted on coming with her. That decision resulted in Janice being kidnapped. Her kidnappers are demanding that Bethany find an ancient artifact called the Pilate Stone, and turn it over to them in order to save Janice's life. It all comes down to good versus evil. As Bethany works to solve Annabelle's murder and save Janice, she discovers that the people behind all this is a powerful, centuries-old, secret group known as The Wilderness. Their main focus has been to discredit Christianity, and to ultimately get rid of it entirely. Members of The Wilderness includes some of the most powerful people in the world. They have been able to control the media, dictate the moves of important politicians and get laws passed to further their cause. Many of their evil deeds have been thwarted through the centuries by another equally secret group called The Garden. Catch her if you can! But all Bethany knows is that she is running for her life. Her character has been completely destroyed, and she has been falsely accused of things she has had nothing to do with. Bethany has had to take on a new identity, and does not know who to trust. Just when she seems to find one answer, she uncovers something else that reveals she is involved in a web of evil that has far reaching consequences. In the mean time, The Garden and The Wilderness both seem to be losing control and experiencing members who are selling them out, or secretly working for the other side. How will this ancient battle end? This is a fascinating story that will draw you in immediately. Will Bethany be able to clear her name, as well as, free Janice? Will The Wilderness succeed this time, and destroy Christianity? Or will The Garden be strong enough to stop The Wilderness? This is a real page turner that will keep you on the edge of your seat. I never knew where this tale was going to go next, and liked that I couldn't easily figure out how it would end. Wilderness Rising is the second book in a series, and I felt the first book, The Church Builder, really needs to be read first to enjoy this one. In fact, I stopped reading Wilderness Rising, got The Church Builder, read it, and then read this one afterward. I enjoyed this 5-star book very much, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys thrillers and mysteries, or well-written Christian fiction. You can find more books written by this author under the name Stephen Carter. The publisher has provided me with a complimentary copy of Wilderness Rising through The Thomas Nelson Publishing BookLook Bloggers Program for the purpose of review. I have not been compensated in any other manner. All opinions expressed are my own, and I was not required, or influenced, to give anything but an honest appraisal. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.
A. L. Shields in his new book, “Wilderness Rising” Book Two in The Church Builder series published by Thomas Nelson continues the adventure with Bethany Barclay. From the back cover: It began as a search for the truth about her best friend’s death. Now Bethany Barclay is caught in the ultimate struggle to keep faith alive. The Wilderness, an ancient cabal bent on destroying Christianity, has murdered Bethany’s best friend, framed her for acts of terrorism, and captured the brilliant teen hacker she vowed to protect. To ransom the girl, Bethany must traverse England and Europe to find the Pilate Stone—a mysterious first-century artifact that might not even exist. She’s not the only one who wants the stone. The Garden, a powerful group of intellectuals sworn to save the Church and help Bethany, is willing to betray her to achieve their higher goals. And a mysterious third faction lurks in the shadows, waiting for her to stumble. Alone and on the run in this international landscape of double and triple agents, Bethany’s quest becomes an ever more complex and dangerous contest against players who don’t play fair. In this riveting sequel to The Church Builder, many of A. L. Shield’s cunning characters are ruthlessly devoted to preserving a world where faith is possible. Others aim to brutally, and finally, undermine belief. Including Bethany’s. Pontius Pilate, possibly, wrote his thoughts about Jesus, onto a piece of stone. Supposedly the ‘Pilate Stone’ had been hidden for centuries. Both The Garden and The Wilderness want that stone and Bethany is the pawn that they are forcing to get it for them. Not only is her life in danger but the life of her friend if she fails. Now she is on the run from law agencies, as they believe she is a terrorist, as she hunts across Europe trying to unearth an artifact that may not exist. “Wilderness Rising” is a thriller, which simply means that Bethany is in grave danger from, practically, the beginning. Mr. Shields has given us a really complex mystery that will keep you up late at night reading as fast as you can. “Wilderness Rising” is full of twists and turns, with a few red herrings thrown in just to cause confusion. Bethany is a warm and likable character and we root for her to succeed as we fear for her life. This is an exciting book, extremely well paced and suspenseful. I am so looking forward to the next book in this series. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book for free from Thomas Nelson through the BookSneeze book review bloggers program. . I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”