Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Voynich Cypher

The Voynich Cypher by Russell Blake
Second in the Dr. Stephen Cross series

When a sacred relic is stolen from its subterranean guarded vault, Dr. Steven Cross, amateur cryptographer, becomes embroiled in a deadly quest to decipher one of history's most enigmatic documents - a 15th century parchment written entirely in unbreakable code; The Voynich Manuscript. Stalked by secret societies, and aided by the daughter of a murdered colleague, a trail of riddles catapults Cross from England to Italy to the Middle East, where a Byzantine web of ancient secrets leads him to a revelation so profound it will change the world order.

--The Voynich Cypher
by Russell Blake
Copyright © 2012 by Russell Blake

My Review
The basis of this story, the Voynich Manuscript, is a real thing.  Its exact age is unknown but is believed to be several hundred years old.  About a hundred years ago, it was “rediscovered” by Wilfred Voynich and has been on display at Yale University ever since.  Cryptologists all over the world consider this document the Holy Grail of ciphers and would likely give their entire fortunes for the key to its decoding.
Steven Cross, an amateur cryptologist, thinks he may know the key, but without a missing portion of the document, he cannot decode it, and neither can anyone else.

A year ago, he contacted another cryptologist, Winston Twain, about his theory but never heard back.  Now, out of nowhere, Twain calls his office.  Before Steven can return his call, Twain is murdered.
Shortly afterward, Twain’s daughter, Natalie, shows up on Steven’s doorstep.  Her father was murdered because of the Voynich, she tells him, and the only way to solve the crime is for them to band together and do what they can to decode the document.

A missing section of the document, a potential key to its decoding, has been held secretly by the Catholic Church.  The Church won’t even admit to owning it, but no worries, Natalie says.  I stole it two weeks ago.  Between the two of us, we can figure this thing out and find out who killed my father.
Can these two decipher the Manuscript before those who wish to keep its secrets hidden—and those who wish to know its secrets for themselves—deal with them in a most permanent manner?

The characters of Steven and Natalie are very well developed and I couldn’t help but like Steven and wanted him to be successful in his mission.  Natalie rubbed me a bit wrong, however.  I dislike characters that always seem to be able to contact the right people and make the right thing happen at just the right time in order to keep the story going.  A little bit of that is okay, but Natalie’s “connections” went a touch too far in my opinion.  Still, I did like her and the story wouldn’t have gone very far without her.  I also didn’t care for the way Natalie was constantly referred to as a “girl” when she was obviously a woman.  I suppose it was Steven’s way of keeping her at arm’s length, but once that bridge was burned, it was silly to keep referring to her that way.  There were also a few minor plot holes that I glossed over in favor of simply enjoying the story.  An interesting adventure worth a weekend’s read.

Although this is the second in a series, it easily stands alone as an independent story.  While reading it, I had no idea there was a previous novel, although it does makes sense because we are given very intriguing hints about Steven’s background before he moved to Italy.  I hope to get to the first and third books in the series before the year is out.

I give this story THREE and a HALF STARS.

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