In honor of Hanukkah, today I review a Jewish-themed indie thriller.
Independently published by author; no star rating given for indies.
Summary: (religious/mystical thriller with minor tech elements) Nathan Yirmorshy, a reclusive computer programmer, finds his life turned upside down when he realizes his landlord is spying on him. Soon Nathan learns the landlord has been watching not only him, but his parents, for decades, and is part of a violent secret religious society. With a rabbi’s help Nathan finds his name–and possibly his fate–written in secret codes in ancient scripture, along with the name of a young tarot card fortune teller he just met. Set primarily in Berkeley and Oakland, California. Lengthy collection of expert commentaries provided at the end of the book.
Review: The Torah Codes was pitched to me as a Jewish Da Vinci Code with some science in it. While it does have some plot related to the Divine Feminine, this thriller isn’t a series of globetrotting puzzles to be solved; it’s more intimate, focused on a hunted man in his home city. It has more typical mystery elements than elaborate riddles (hidden cameras, secret identities, breaking and entering, etc.) The primary riddle/mystery revolves around prophecies hidden in precisely replicated copies of ancient Hebrew biblical texts; these mysteries are investigated using computer algorithms, but interpretation of what the results mean is up to the humans.
STRENGTHS: Author Ezra Barany has a wonderful ability to turn a phrase, and the copy editing of this book is superb. For readers intrigued in numerology and prophecy hidden in ancient texts, The Torah Codes provides an interesting story. Main characters Nathan and Sophia are engaging and have some depth, especially Nathan with his poorly-controlled mental illness and wonderful first person voice. The mystery of why Nathan is being followed, what his mysterious pursuers want, and whether he is indeed part of a biblical prophecy, keep the reader turning pages. Cool scene where Nathan uses chemistry to try to scare off his pursuers.
WEAKNESSES: I found parts of the plot confusing, and several questions were left unanswered even at the end (where did Nathan get his money? who sent the anonymous letter about MEG and the Bible? why was the one guy allowed to live? why was it so hard to find investors for Meg?) The science content was less than I hoped. Isaac Newton makes a cameo appearance in the prologue, which got me excited, but the main character Nathan’s ideas about brain waves as a kind of light is parapsychology, not science. While the chemistry/sabotage scene is fun, I was distracted by concerns about mercury exposure. The MEG device is science fiction–cool scifi–but doesn’t really fit into the central themes of the story.
Overall: An easy read for thriller fans who are interested in numerology or Jewish mysticism. An entertaining way to introduce yourself to what the torah codes are and the question of whether they are real, with plenty of material in the appendices to explore this theme. Oakland/Berkeley setting may appeal to those with local knowledge of the area.
FCC disclaimer: A free e-copy of this book was given to me for review. As always, I made no guarantee that I would read the book or post a positive review.