ARC Review: True Raiders: The Untold Story of the 1909 Expedition to Find the Legendary Ark of the Covenant


True Raiders: The Untold Story of the 1909 Expedition to Find the Legendary Ark of the Covenant by Brad Ricca

In 1909 Montague Parker, the younger brother of the English Earl of Morley, led an expedition to Jerusalem in search of the Ark of the Covenant. Parker was backed by a syndicate of upper crust Englishmen. The whole undertaking was based on the work of a Finnish academic, Dr. Valter Juvelius, who claimed to have discovered a code - a cypher - within the Old Testament that revealed the Ark's location.

I am sure that there is a worthwhile book to be had from the 1909 expedition, but for me, Brad Ricca's True Raiders is not it. The book is categorized as a biography (of Parker I suppose), but it's written as narrative nonfiction, with invented scenes and dialogue to move the story along. 

While that approach might have worked, unfortunately the main story is told from different perspectives, involving multiple characters (some of whom are only tangentially involved), and interspersed with flashbacks to an earlier English expedition. The result is a book that is very disjointed, hard to read, and for me very hard to get wrapped up in.

While I had problems with the author's approach to the story, I am also not really a fan of the way Parker's expedition took place. 

First, there were no archaeologists brought in. An amateur archeologist, Father Vincent, volunteered on site and was allowed to participate, but was never told the true nature of the expedition (that they were searching for the Ark). 

And that's the second thing - Parker, his crew and syndicate all kept their purpose under wraps. Their estimate of the worth of the Ark meant they'd have competition if word got out. So they lied to the Ottoman government (responsible for Jerusalem at the time), the local mayor, the local people, and those they hired to do the digging they required. If they had found the Ark they would have smuggled it out of the country, in contravention of Ottoman law. And to top it all off they secretly excavated beneath a Muslim holy place (the Dome of the Rock), and when caught at this had to flee the country. So it wasn't a particularly ethical expedition, but rather one that smelled of entitlement and empirical hubris.

Given all that, it's hard to root for Parker and company while reading this book, even if you do want to see where their efforts are going to lead. There were a couple of points where I wanted to just put the book down, but it takes a lot for me to not finish a book, and there was just enough here to keep me going.

I was originally really intrigued by the premise of this book and looked forward to reading it. But in the end I cannot really recommend it. I give True Raiders Two Stars ⭐⭐.

NOTE: I received an advanced reviewer's copy of this book through NetGalley and St. Martin's Press in exchange for a fair and honest review. The hardcover and audiobook editions are available today, September 21, 2020.

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