The front cover also says that “everything you believe is wrong and everything you fear is real” so quite a lot to live up to, but at a fiver off at WH Smith, I took a punt on the hardback.
The author is new to me, or at least I think so. Philip Carter is the pseudonym of an internationally renowned and award-winning author apparently, but I couldn’t be bothered to try to find out who that might be.
Altar of Bones actually gets off to quite a good start in the sub-zero heart of Siberia in 1937. Lena Orlov is a “nurse” at the Norilsk prison camp who is plotting to escape with her lover, another internee of the gulag.
They battle through the barren wastes in the teeth of a purga (that’s a snowstorm to me and you) finally taking refuge in a cave that Lena knows of hidden behind a frozen waterfall. But there brief stay in the cave does not end well when she is betrayed.
Fast-forward to the more recent past and an old man on his death bed confesses his involvement in two of the biggest conspiracy theories of the 1960s that are somehow linked to the earlier events in Siberia and something called the Altar of Bones.
Then to the present and into the lives of Zoe Dmitroff and Ry O’Malley, descendants of the main characters above who are drawn into the promised “most eagerly awaited conspiracy thriller of the year”.
The first half of the book is actually quite good. Shadowy villains, pitiless assassins, the rich and powerful with skeletons to hide, all plot and scheme to see Zoe and Ry dead for their various reasons.
But Ry and Zoe soon start to grate on the nerves. It isn’t just the number of times that they notice the slightest creak of a floorboard and dive to ground in the nick of time to avoid a hail of bullets.
It isn’t even that Ry just happens to be a special forces trained undercover lawman, or that Zoe the campaigning attorney for women’s rights also just happens to be a martial arts expert, crack shot and
Nor is it that Ry just happens to know someone useful wherever the pair travel, be it a passport forger, an expert in disguise, a professor of microbiology, a Russian pop star or a student of religious icons.
No, it is the way the two inevitably fall in love, swap dialogue telling each other what wonderful people they are and calling each other “babe”.
As mentioned, the first half of the book is okay, but from there on it wanders off to la-la land. A hidden cave that holds the secret of eternal youth that comes with insanity as a side-effect, but with no explanation of why this should be. It’s just, like… magic.
The villains come to a sticky end one by one, but this happens almost in passing as Zoe and Ry become more and more 007-ish and even more irritating.
On my five star rating system, this gets a two, but I’m probably being over generous.