Murder in Jérusalem Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Murder in Jérusalem Review

Alexander Wallace visits an alternate Holy Land.
The Holy Land is many things. It is a land of olive groves and a land of the embers of war. It is sacred to three large religions and to several smaller ones. It is dotted with synagogues and churches and mosques. It has been a land that has been fought over by kingdoms and empires for millennia, as a way from Egypt to Syria or from Syria to Egypt (to quote a preface to a Harry Turtledove story), and for its sanctity to the faiths of those from other lands.

It is one of those other lands that created the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Along with three other states founded in the region, it was the project of French knights intent on reconquering the Holy Land in the name of Christendom. Its first incarnation lasted for little less than a century before being destroyed by the armies of Saladin. It’s one of those strange historical milieus that alternate historians love to write about, and it is not surprising that there has been a reasonably sized (yet still rather short) treatment of the subject.

That treatment is Paul Leone’s Murder in Jérusalem. I previously reviewed his In and Out of the Reich at NeverWas Magazine and quite enjoyed it, and from then was eager to read more of his work. I therefore opened Murder in Jérusalem with great anticipation. Fortunately, this proved every bit as good as In and Out of the Reich.

The book is set in the year 2015 in a world where the Kingdom survived. Technologically, the world is quite like our own; there are cars and trains and other such things, providing this Jerusalem (which Leone dedicatedly spells with an accent over the first ‘e,’ befitting the Kingdom’s French heritage) a very familiar veneer. He dots the city with churches and other such establishments, and makes very clear the variety of ethnicities that have inhabited this ancient city. It is a vibrant metropolis, pulsating with life and culture and faith.

The characters Leone chooses are ones that serve to illuminate the world he has created; this is the ideal balance between character and worldbuilding that all alternate history (and all speculative fiction, for that matter) should aspire to. Indeed, he integrates the character and the worldbuilding in a way that complements one another, for human beings do not spring forth ex nihilo (K. S. Villoso has a very good essay on her blog about this very thing) He has a teacher and a policeman and a prostitute serving as viewpoint characters for different sections of the novel, and in these roles they show Jerusalem not as a holy city, but simply as a city. The rest of the world has all too often viewed the holy land as something upon which they project their own desires, like that of an ideal Christendom by the Crusaders, and ignore the humanity of people who already live there. Leone does not fall into such a trap.

Leone does an admirable job of extrapolating from the reality of the Kingdom to a different twenty-first century. Writing a truly ‘definitive’ alternate history is a contradiction in terms, and this is doubly so for something set centuries after the point of divergence. Leone does not try to make this a ‘definitive’ version of a victorious Kingdom of Jerusalem, and as such does not bog down the text with counterfactual analysis trying to attain that which is unattainable. Rather, he focuses on believability than plausibility (a framework I borrow from my friend Colin Salt), and that will always make for a better story when telling a traditional narrative alternate history story. I particularly like his interpretation of what the Knights Templar would be in this world.

Ultimately, reading this work was quite pleasant. I would not call it a ‘pleasant surprise,’ because after my experience with In and Out of the Reich I would not consider the notion that Paul Leone is capable of quality work to be surprising. He is a fantastic author, and I believe his work deserves more attention. He has shown himself capable of doing amazing things with alternate history, and I look forward to reading more of his oeuvre. I encourage the reader to do the same.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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