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Wallentin's debut novel an original, intriguing thrill ride

JEFF AYERS The Associated Press
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 10:10 PM

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"Strindberg's Star," by Jan Wallentin (Viking)

World War II, Jules Verne and secret societies mesh in journalist Jan Wallentin's debut thriller, "Strindberg's Star."

Erik Hall loves to cave dive. He learns of an abandoned mine near his home and decides to take the plunge. While exploring the dark and damp cavern, he stumbles onto a well-preserved body wearing an ankh, an ancient Egyptian symbol of life. The news spreads about his discovery and Hall becomes a celebrity.

Don Titelman learns of Hall's retrieval and tries to set up a meeting. Titelman is an expert in religious symbols and thinks there is more to the discovery than a dead body in a mine. When he arrives for the meeting, he finds Hall dead. Titelman becomes the prime suspect. With the help of his attorney, Eva Strom, he tries to prove his innocence.

Titelman and Strom soon are knee-deep in a conspiracy that encompasses decades of secrets. Forced to run for their lives, they travel the European continent and the North Pole to stay one step ahead of their pursuers — and to find answers. What's the real story behind the ankh?

Some of the characters in the narrative are difficult to like, but the main plot is an intriguing thrill ride. Imagine a combination of the secrets and symbols of Dan Brown with the adventures of Jules Verne, ancient mysteries and experiments conducted by the Nazis. Wallentin's background as a journalist gives the story line credibility, and Rachel Willson-Broyles does a great job translating from the original Swedish.

"Strindberg's Star" is unlike anything else you'll read this year.

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