cover image Alpha and Omega

Alpha and Omega

Harry Turtledove. Del Rey, $28.99 (480p) ISBN 978-0-399-18149-8

Bestseller Turtledove (Through Darkest Europe) doesn’t bring his A-game to this over-the-top religious thriller. A “red heifer, the first in 2,000 years,” whose ashes could be used to make people ritually pure, is found in Arkansas and transported to Israel by Yitzhak Avigad, a fundamentalist Jew. A dirty bomb detonated by Muslim terrorists in the Tel Aviv bus station leads the Israeli religious authorities to remove restrictions from a team of archeologists digging under the Temple Mount, whose tunneling reveals the Ark of the Covenant itself, magically floating off the ground. An American journalist drops dead after touching it. The amazing find fits in with Avigad’s plan to rebuild the Third Temple, which would house the Ark, after the sacrifice of the red heifer to purify everything. This plan to displace the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque naturally raises tensions with the Arab world. Turtledove doesn’t sweat the details, and his prose may elicit some unintended guffaws (“God still packed a punch—and He probably hadn’t got fat sitting on the sidelines the past 3,000 years”). Turtledove fans will hope for better next time. (July)