Children of the Shroud
Steven Lehman teaches English at John Abbot College in Montreal.
The basic conflict in this novel originates with a couple dozen clones of the Lord Jesus Christ. They have been genetically engineered from physical traces left on the Shroud of Turin. A TV evangelist learns of their existence and interprets them as the Antichrist. He makes James Jones of the Guyana massacre look moderate, but “Bobby Jay” is not a leftist fanatic like the tragically deluded Reverend Jones. He is an anti-communist lunatic of the far right who manages to put the President of the United States completely under his power. The President is convinced to pre-empt Armageddon with an apocalyptic nuclear strike, and the task of our heroes is to save the world.
This excellent idea is trivialized and dissipated, however, in the execution, leaving the reader entertained but hardly enlightened as to the historical, political, or scientific implications of such a hypothesis.
Reeves-Stevens demonstrates a sensitive ear in reproducing the many speech patterns and dialects of his characters. He also gives hints of real ability in developing those characters. The romantic leads, a young police cadet and an older woman who is the scientific authority in the story, are especially well handled. The hard-boiled, big-city detective important in the early stages of the unfolding mystery also grows beyond cliche into a well-rounded and believable character. The same goes for the Roman Catholic priest who first uncovers the trail leading to the resurrected clones. But the author’s considerable talent for depicting action in the bang-bang-shoot-em-up tradition is somewhat overindulged.
Instead of allowing the powerful main idea to propel the narrative, Reeves-Stevens constantly bombards the reader with depictions of gratuitous violence, blood and gore dripping from nearly every chapter, and / or hackneyed “thrills” of levitated daring-do deriving from the psychic powers of the heroic clones. Presumably, these elements sell books, but they also subvert the sound speculative basis of the novel and its thematic integrity. The ultimate vision of Children of the Shroud intends to be the resolution of the arms race and a celebration of global harmony. However, reliance on sensationalist violence in the narration keeps it mired for the most part in the all-too-familiar defeatism of killing for peace.