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In search of the True Cross

29 November 2013

This quest, Alexander Lucie-Smith says, is partly an inner one


Lion Heart
Justin Cartwright
Bloomsbury £18.99
Church Times Bookshop £17.10 (Use code CT205 )

WHAT happened to the True Cross? Have you ever wondered? Justin Cartwright's new novel weaves past and present, the past strand focusing on the True Cross, which was carried into battle by the Crusaders at the Horns of Hattin, where it was captured by Saladin.

Did Richard the Lionheart secretly manage to negotiate its return? If so, where is it now? Our hero, Richie Cathar, the son of a Lionheart obsessive, is determined to find out, despite the fact that he is not a religious believer, and to him it is a holy relic not of Christ but of the Crusader king.

Richie has never had a proper job, but he is an Oxford graduate, and he gets a grant to study the art of the Crusader kingdom, which takes him to Jerusalem. There he meets a Christian Palestinian woman who knew his late father, and falls desperately in love with Noor, her Canadian niece. Sadly, Noor, a journalist, then goes on assignment to Egypt, where she is kidnapped. Is she a spy? And when she is released, why won't she communicate with him? Can Ritchie and Noor find love and peace together, and will Richie find the Cross?

At one point Richie mentions the most read quest novel of our times, The Da Vinci Code. His own quest is subtler and more readable. There is great care taken over the characterisation, and the minor figures are expertly handled. Richie himself is sometimes difficult to like, being rather cruel to the girl he loves before Noor, but he is a damaged man: his quest to find the Cross, and the truth about the Lionheart, is a quest to find peace with himself and his late father.

Lion Heart is an adventure story, gripping and well told, but also the story of the inner education of the hero, and as such equally satisfying.

Alexander Lucie-Smith is the author of Narrative Theology and Moral Theology (Ashgate, 2007).

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