THE KNIGHTS OF MALTA WERE THERE WHEN JERUSALEM FELL, THEY WERE THERE WHEN THE TEMPLARS DISINTEGRATED, AND THEY’RE THERE NOW . . . WAITING IN DETROIT FOR A BORN-AGAIN CON MAN TRYING TO SAVE HIS FAMILY.
Former con man Fletcher Doyle is finally home after six years in the pen. He’s working a menial job, regaining his bearings in the world, and trying to revive his relationships with his wife and twelve-year-old daughter. No easy feat.
But when Fletcher and his family go on a mission trip to Detroit—in the company of the condescending church leader who also happens to be his landlord—Fletcher finds his old life waiting for him. Within hours of arriving in the city, he’s been blackmailed into doing a job for a mysterious criminal who calls himself The Alchemist.
A series of relics hidden by the Knights of Malta, as ancient as they are priceless, are in the sights of The Alchemist. What he needs is a gifted grifter with a background in ecclesiastical history . . . what he needs is Fletcher Doyle.
Between hiding his reawakened criminal life from his wife and trying to hide her from their relentless landlord, Fletcher is ready to give up. But when his family is drawn into the dangerous world he can’t shake, Fletcher is forced to rely on his years in the game to save the only people who mean more to him than the biggest con in history.
I read Zachery Bartels first book, Playing Saint and loved it. When I heard that Bartels had written a second book, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. The Last Con reminded me a lot of James Rollins, Dan Brown, and the Indiana Jones movies. There is a hunt for a Biblical artifact, filled with a bunch of twists and turns throwing me for a wild ride.
The writing was tight, powerful, and helped keep me glued to the page. I didn’t have to worry about losing my attention because of misplaced grammatical errors and glaring misspelled words, which is nice for a grammar Nazi like me. There is a nice balance between the spoken dialogues between each character. There are not a lot of internal monologues because majority of the prose moved the action forward. Most of the dilemma is spoken aloud by the various characters.
Fletcher, the main character, is a recently converted Christian who has just been released from prison for stealing a Biblical artifact from a church. I enjoyed watching Fletcher struggle to reconnect with his wife and young daughter, Ivy, which rang true for me. The really only romantic tension is between Fletcher and his wife, and how he wants to earn his wife’s trust again. Fletcher wanted to prove himself by changing, but overall, I didn’t know if I really liked him or not. The minor characters in Andrew, his ex-partner, and other grifters rounded out Fletcher’s support team. They grounded Fletcher and helped him along the way. A word of warning: One paragraph I was in Fletcher’s point of view, then it jumped into Andrew’s, but only for one paragraph. There was a line break, but sometimes, I had to go back and remember whose point of view I was currently in.
The pace started off kind of slow in the beginning. However, the plot picked up and moved along faster as the hunt for the artifact became more important to the climax. The story features two different timelines: one in the present and one in the late eighteenth century. For a while, I had no idea what the significance of the historical timeline had to do with the present story, but at fifty-five percent in, it came obvious what the connection was. I just wish it was sooner. The Last Con was plot-driven, not character driven, so the characters felt stiff for my taste. One of my major problems with the story was the ending; for me, it did not satisfy the huge buildup. It had a quick ending, and then flipped to the historical timeline and everyone walked off the page. I wanted to throw the book across the room.
A strength of the story is Bartels research into the historical significance of Cagliostro and the Freemasons. The information wasn’t dumped on the page, instead Bartel uses the dual timelines to show me the historical significance of Cagliostro and why the Alchemist wants the historical piece. The spiritual thread was more subdued-less preachy for this time of book, but it was mentioned and came across naturally.
Fans of Rollins and Brown should already be used to the grittier side of treasure hunters, but Bartel really doesn’t show a lot of the visual questionable content for the CBA audience. A number of chapters provide a pretty rare glimpse into the seedy underworld of grifters. As for violence that is common in these type of books, it has about the same about as the movie National Treasure starring Nicholas Cage. Nothing too dramatic for younger audiences.
In short, Zachery Bartels, The Last Con, is a thrill-ride, action-packed ride on the hunt for Free Mason treasure in his latest thriller. With another impressive blend of strong characters, high stakes, and heroism, The Last Con is a book for fans of James Rollins and Dan Brown stories, set against the backdrop of Michigan. I honestly could not read the last forty percent of the book fast enough. I couldn’t wait to figure out who the Alchemist was, which I solved way before he mentioned who it was in the book.
I received a complimentary copy of The Last Con from Thomas Nelson publishing and the opinions stated are all my own.
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
****This review is also on Booktalk where I am a regular reviewer.****