Book Review: Holy Smoke by Frederick Ramsay

Holy SmokeHoly Smoke
A Jerusalem Mystery
Frederick Ramsay
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2013
ISBN No. 978-1-46420-092-2
Trade Paperback

Ramsay‘s latest novel takes the reader to Jerusalem in the year 29 C. E.  A badly scorched body is discovered behind the veil of the Holy of Holies.  The Holy of Holies is the Temple’s inner sanctum and a sacred place for the Jews.  Only the High Priest may enter and only once a year on the Day of Atonement.

The body is discovered when a cord is sticking out from the veil of the Holy of Holies.  It had been discussed that a cord should be tied around the high priest’s ankle when he entered on the Day of Atonement but this had never been put into practice.  The first item of concern is how to get the body or whatever is attached to the cord out from behind the veil.  This is finally accomplished and the body attached to the cord is unrecognizable due to severe burns.

Gamaliel, the Rabban of the Sanhedrin is the ranking rabbi in all of Judea.  Gamaliel is drawn into solving this mystery but before he reaches a conclusion, another burnt body is found. This time the body is in a shop and not the temple.  Gamaliel gets Loukas, the physician, to join him in trying to figure out whose body was burned and left in the Temple and why.

It is no big surprise to find out that the murders are a part of a war beginning between the countries that supply hul gil to the shops in Jerusalem.  Hul gil is opium derived from the poppy and some of the opium is much more potent than other varieties.  Gamaliel and Loukas are followed and narrowly escape injury as they seek out answers.

The author has served on the University of Maryland School of Medicine faculty and is an ordained Episcopal priest. Ramsay has written a number of books.  Holy Smoke is the third in a trilogy set in Jerusalem.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, March 2013.