Although I knew from the book blurb more or less what The Messiah Matrix was about, I wasn’t quite prepared for the unique combination of carefully researched material and breathless adventure story. The subject matter of The Messiah Matrix is controversial, even for someone like me who has no religious leanings, and I expect it will cause a stir in the religious community, and with those of the Catholic faith in particular.
Father Ryan McKeown goes about his daily duties as a Jesuit priest in Rome, not realizing that his life is about to change forever. One fateful day, he hears the confession of a man who claims to have just killed a priest, and then witnesses the murder of the same man on the streets of Rome. Before he takes his final breath, the murderer whispers the message he came to deliver to Father Ryan, a message that will send Ryan on a dangerous search for the truth about the origins of Jesus Christ.
Emily Scelba is an archeologist working on an undersea excavation in the Mediterranean Sea when she discovers a Roman coin called the Augustan aureus, whose existence may throw into a tailspin everything the world has come to believe about religion. Emily takes the coin to a trusted friend to have it cleaned and examined, but her “friend” turns out to be a dishonest opportunist and steals the coin and tries to sell it.
Ryan and Emily are thrown together as they search for the coin and try to unearth the connection between the aureus and the murdered priest, a man named Oscar Isaac that both of them knew and respected, and who was also searching for the aureus. Their discoveries lead them on a hunt through the streets of Rome and into hidden crypts and catacombs, and put them face to face with the men who not only ordered Isaac killed, but who want to keep hidden the dangerous secrets of the Catholic Church that could lead to religious chaos if discovered.
Although filled with exhaustively researched details about how the story of Christ came to be, I was surprised by what an exciting and page-turning read this was. Atchity does a great job of interspersing the historical facts with nail-biting action sequences that propel the story along. One particularly terrifying scene has Emily and Ryan trying to escape a secret catacomb by diving into a boiling, underground river and swimming to safety. The characters of Ryan and Emily are fascinating and well drawn. Ryan is a man who takes his vows of priesthood very seriously, but who has also been on a personal mission his whole life to validate his beliefs. While his days as a priest should be worry-free and filled with the joy of the duties he performs, he comes across as a tortured soul who has a deep need to know the truth. When his belief system begins to crack, he realizes he may need to adjust his thinking in order to cope with the new information he and Emily have discovered.
Emily too is an interesting character. She’s a smart and beautiful woman, also driven to seek the truth, but her pursuits are more scholarly than Ryan’s. When they get together the sparks fly in more ways than one. Infusing romance between lead characters is nothing new, in fact most readers come to expect it. But Atchity throws a wrench into the romance by making his male character a priest, and this gives Father Ryan something else to worry about: he is attracted to a woman, but according to his vow of celibacy he can’t do anything about it.
The author imparts much of his researched information through flashbacks to the days of Caesar Augustus, the first emperor of Rome. These chapters not only immerse the reader in the rich history of Rome, but give great insight into the main premise of The Messiah Matrix: that the “myths” of Jesus Christ and his birth that we are familiar with from the Bible came from a combination of many sources over time, originating with Augustus. Atchity smartly imparts this controversial information without too much emotion, leaving each individual reader free to decide for himself what may or may not be true. The only flaw in the story, in my opinion, is the ending, where his secular and scholarly observations turned a bit preachy. But I was riveted by the tales of religious iconic imagery, like the cross and Jesus’ crown of thorns, and the actual origins of these images (at least according to Atchity). The author also includes a table of events at the back of the book that gives the reader an easy-to-understand comparison between his researched facts and the events of Jesus’ life highlighted in the Bible.
For anyone who loves thrillers, romance, and a story that may forever challenge the way you look at religion, The Messiah Matrix is highly recommended.
Many thanks to Mr. Atchity for supplying a review copy.