“Covenant” Dean Crawford (Simon and Schuster) – novel review

Covenant Dean Crawford book cover

Meet Ethan Warner, ex-army, ex-missing persons-finder after his girlfriend was captured in Gaza three years ago and his inability to find her triggered his current life as a waster. A man who believes he has nothing to lose. An archetypal anti-hero. Unfortunately, he remains an archetype because readers never find out what he looks like. In the absence of hints (dark, blond, tall, short, taste in music, what attracted him to his girlfriend) he becomes generic. Finally on page 570 readers learn Ethan has gray eyes, which may be a bit of shock as readers will have built their own picture by then. The girlfriend, Joanna, is used as leverage to emotionally blackmail him into a final missing person search, so he’s not quite hit rock bottom.

The missing person is Dr Lucy Morgan who was working in a no man’s land nominally belonging to Israel. As she’s American, Israel wants this hushed up. She’s an archaeologist who’d strayed from her official project to work on a personal project during which she uncovered a skeleton of something not human. This not human is emphasised heavily with scientists explaining how the skeleton isn’t a human one and then telling readers it’s not human. Yep, we get the message already. The not human skeleton disappears with Lucy. Ethan Warner, naturally, is not interested: his only interest is in the authorities releasing more information about his girlfriend Joanna’s capture and if he has to find Lucy Morgan first, that’s what he’ll do.  He travels with Rachel Morgan, Lucy’s  mother, and they soon discover their enquiries won’t get far unless they can lose their Munitions for Advanced Combat Environment (MACE) baby-sitters who intimidate the people they are trying to interview.

Rachel Morgan is a theologian, fond of quoting the Book of Enoch, particularly the section where the angel Azazel falls to earth. Ethan soon learns that all civilisations made a sudden jump from being homo sapiens with crude tools and rudimentary skills to designing specialised tools, discovering the capacity to build elaborate structures and being able to write in a cuneiform script, and surviving descriptions suggest these skills were taught by creatures thought to be gods or angels. Powerful religious groups have their reasons for keeping Lucy’s discovery secret.

Meanwhile MPD detectives Tyrell and Lopez discover three corpses in Washington DC. Two are clearly drug addict overdoses. The third, however, shows recent dental work, signs of recent medical treatment and no traces of street drugs. Moreover the corpse shows signs of frostbite and the medical examiner discovers that the man had undergone a blood transfusion that didn’t use the man’s original blood group. The police chief however wants to wrap this up as three overdoses as he doesn’t have the resources to allow detectives to follow-up an obscure case. As readers follow the detectives’ work, they learn both what the mysterious operations are to achieve and how. The detectives also uncover that the surgery took place in a medical center run by a local, Creationist church. Readers have already seen that the ambitious pastor has links with MACE.

Lucy was not alone when she was abducted. She regains consciousness in a dark cave of a building and becomes aware that one of the two men she was captured with is in the bed next to her, connected to a saline drip with medical monitoring equipment around him. She’s strapped to her bed. One of her captors notices the man is coming round, Lucy watches as he thrashes about, foaming at the mouth before falling still. The captors mention “disposal” and hint at performing the same surgery on her before sedating her again.

Time is running out for Rachel and Ethan and the plot twists and turns as they have to think on their feet and align their motives with and take help from whomever they can. Gaza and Israel are not exotic backdrops but used in such a way the action could not take place anywhere else. The two plot strands are deftly woven together as the action returns to America. Even minor characters come alive and Dean Crawford handles fanaticism and damaged people  credibly and with empathy. Dean Crawford manages to get complex plot information across without resorting to information dumps and with keeping characters in character: the strength of a natural storyteller. The international thriller writers’ club has just welcomed a new, worthy member.

Published in the UK on 5 November 2011 from Simon and Schuster.

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