[Review] The Lazarus Prophecy written by F.G. Cottam

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Title: The Lazarus Prophecy
Author: F. G. Cottam
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Date of Publication: 9 September 2014
Number of Pages: 289

Rating: 1.5 stars

Disclaimer: Copy provided free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Summary: There is a killer loose on the streets of London, one that evades security cameras, is not held by locks, and savagely mutilates his victims. When the murderer switches from unknown prostitutes to Julie Longmuir, a beautiful actress at the height of her success, no woman feels safe. As the press begin to draw uncomfortable comparisons with Jack the Ripper, Jane Sullivan, heading up the police investigation, grudgingly has to agree. But the religious writing, scrawled on the wall in Julie Longmuir’s blood, is outside Jane’s area of expertise. Roping in Jacob Prior, a disillusioned theologian, they attempt to pick apart the demonic delusions of this Ripper copycat. They must act quickly, as events are spiralling out of control, and Jane is next on the killer’s list.

Jane will be tested beyond the limits of standard police work, as the esoteric insinuates itself into the investigation. For events are linked to the clandestine Priory in the Pyrenees, the home of a secret Christian sect that pre-dates the Knights Templar. Jane and Jacob are faced with a deeper mystery than they had ever dreamed of; are they simply dealing with a psychopath, or is this something bigger, is this The End of Days?

Review: The Lazarus Prophecy is a mediocre “thriller” based around Jack the Ripper and arcane threads of early Catholicism but with all the charm of a procedural manual. There is no atmosphere evoked within the text and readers are treated to a dry regurgitation of historical facts that seem unedited from the Wikipedia pages they were copied from. I was going to suggest the modern reader is too sophisticated for the subtlety Cottam is aiming for but this doesn’t explain authors like Stephen King and one of his recent releases, Revival. Revival is shocking to the end because King tells a mundane story that is anything of the sort.

It isn’t that the story is bad – quite the contrary. Inside The Lazarus Prophecy is an interesting and exciting story that simply hasn’t developed. Before I go any further and explain what I mean, I want to acknowledge that what we, as NetGalley readers receive, is a pre-publication draft. I want to acknowledge that any of the sections I reference here may not exist in the final copy and I want the publisher to acknowledge, in this instance, they sent a reader copy in such poor condition, I spent more time playing editor than I did, reader. This has tarnished my opinion of the book quite dramatically as I do not read for NetGalley and publishers, as an editor.

There is a strange undercurrent of sexism and misogyny in the text.

1] Cottam writes, He thought she was one of the two or three most attractive women he’d encountered in his adult life and was intrigued on that basis to learn more about her. Raising the question of whether he would have been interested in the woman if she’d been plain or fat.

2] Cottam panders to gay sexual types when he writes, Jane Sullivan would have assumed the obvious: that Elaine Page and Barbra Streisand featured heavily in his CD collection and that he couldn’t get through The Wizard of Oz without a box of Kleenex to hand.

3] Cottam shows alarming naivety with There was a tradition in some religious faiths of trivializing or denigrating women. There wasn’t in Christianity. Catholics particularly revered women because of the crucial part Mary had played in the birth of Christ and his journey to maturity. Culturally, Catholic countries were overwhelmingly matriarchal. Put at its simplest, all the boys loved their mum.

4] Cottam suggests that a priest is not “naturally misogynistic”. All of this makes me wonder whom he is attempting to convince.

5] Cottam perpetuates the stereotype of the drunken Irish immigrant – and other stereotypes remain that should not be considered as factual.

6] Cottam writes, Even in the 21st century, men routinely hit on women kept company only by the glass in front of them at a pub table. This seems an incredibly strange statement as it suggests that the dawning of a new century suddenly would suddenly have seen men better behaved in their relationships with women.

There also seems to be a deliberate avoidance of maps of London. For example;

1] Jacob Prior lives near Oval but walks to Holborn to go to the gym. Without specifics it is impossible to work out what the round trip would be but even at a minimum, this is about 7km [4.4 miles]

2] One of the female characters walks to Bermondsy from a destination that is also a 4km [2.5miles] distance. I cannot help but wonder if Cottam just didn’t want to check which bus route or tube station was closest to his character. It is difficult to believe that a DCI, going to meetings where her appearance is important, would walk in the peak of summer heat.

3] Charlotte walks a considerable distance on a damaged ankle that the reader is repeatedly told, needs time to heal. Considering the damage Cottam writes the character to have, I doubt she would have been travelling the distance or side stepping tourists around the Southbank with any kind of ease. Further, in this section, Charlotte looks across the river from BFI and sees many buildings. While this is correct, why would Cottam not write that she could see Somerset House at the very least?

Looking back over my notes I find that the words cut and redundant and the phrase awkward sentence repeat constantly. Words appear in sentences that feel backwards. “Facts” are learned too quickly and we are expected to believe that DCI Jane Sullivan doesn’t know what Marxism is. I can believe she wouldn’t know about Fabian Socialism but the other defies belief.

1] Cottam refers to a Bafta Award as a “mask trophy”.

2] A priest “knew his scripture”, which honestly, is only to be expected.

3] DCI Sullivan is removed from the case but she doesn’t react – at all! There is no dialogue, no internal monologue, NOTHING!

As for the ending, I can only say hurried, rushed, unconvincing, contrived and fast approaching the maximum word count. The ending is so easily resolved I actually laughed out loud. While I didn’t see it coming, there was nothing to it that makes me believe I should have.

There are many more examples within the text that show how much work still needed to be done on the draft before releasing it to readers but I feel I’ve made my point. Unfortunately, this is not the first Cottam novel I’ve read where these problems have existed – it will, however, be the last Cottam book I read.

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