This book tells the untold true story of Monty Parker, a British rogue nobleman who, after being dared to do so by Ava Astor, the so-called "most beautiful woman in the world," headed a secret 1909 expedition to find the fabled Ark of the Covenant.
For fans of Raiders of the Lost Ark, there’s something just as exciting as seeing Indiana Jones swashbuckling his way through the jungles in search of treasure. That thing is hearing Dr. Henry Jones describe the history behind the Ark of the Covenant, and what makes it such a sought-after archeological find. That history is what makes Brad Ricca’s True Raiders such a fun read, even if it lacks the cinematic payoff of a Stephen Spielberg’s film ... Ricca manages to keep readers hooked with this true story that reads like a novel. It leaves readers wondering just how close the explorers get to finding this long-lost piece of history and just how far they’re willing to go to search for it.
True Raiders belongs to the genre of book where any shortcomings in the documentary record are smoothed over with abundant made-up stuff ... A camera’s-eye narrative traces details no camera would have seen, and conversations among long-dead people have stage directions written in ... For those of us with strict and intolerant standards for nonfiction, this obviously unverifiable stuff tends to unsuspend disbelief, sending one hurrying to the endnotes to try to get a feel for how far beyond the source texts things have strayed ... But facts truly are stubborn things, and their stubbornness has a peculiar effect here. Despite the showmanship, there is something deeply non-cinematic about True Raiders. It hops among places, times, and points of view not so much to guide a scripted plot through its storyboard as to chase the available material where it happens to go—regardless of how near to, or far from, the Ark it may be ... The story is most absorbing when the source material pulls it in the other direction—when it turns away from the magic-lantern show of well-known history, slips past the shifty and ignorant British treasure chasers and their exploited workers, and descends into the caves and tunnels with Father Louis-Hugues Vincent, a real archaeologist and Dominican priest in Jerusalem.
The story of the expedition has the elements of a good thriller—desperate characters, hidden tunnels, an ancient code, and intrigues among the treasure hunters themselves—and aims for a cinematic feel ... Mr. Ricca has done extensive research (there are 29 pages of end notes). But he never manages to make the story gel. Part of the difficulty stems from his disjointed narrative. His many-sided approach jumps back and forth between different characters and between different time periods, recounting what is going on in the moment but seldom pulling back to offer a wider perspective. Too much of the book is taken up with nose-to-the-wall descriptions of digging by candlelight in various exotic caves—the Virgin’s Fountain, Warren’s Shaft, the Pool of Siloam. After a while, one dark, wet, claustrophobic underground chamber starts to resemble the next. At a time when the news brings a succession of stories about Western museums repatriating objects to various countries in Africa and Asia, the depiction of a group of wealthy Europeans intent on taking the Ark home exerts only a limited claim on the reader’s sympathies. Then there are the characters themselves. With the notable exception of Father Vincent, it’s hard to root for any of them ... The story doesn’t so much conclude as run out of steam.