The Magic Circle
Katherine Neville
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Buy Katherine Neville's *The Magic Circle* online The Magic Circle Katherine Neville
Ballantine Books
554 pages
March 1998
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

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Katherine Neville, once a vice president of Bank of America and author of the international bestseller The Eight, returns to the mainstream thriller scene with a novel marrying historical fiction and modern-day suspense. The Magic Circle jumps (mostly) between the Holy Land, the Roman Empire and Great Britain around the time of Jesus Christ's crucifixion and the U.S., Russia and Europe in the late 1980s. Ancient relics of power, encryptions, and prophecies add up to a Pandora's box waiting to be opened by one young woman as she discovers the secrets and lies that have fractured her family for generations.

Curled Up With a Good BookAriel Behn, daughter of a hard-drinking diva and a coldly distant businessman, is a carefree "girl nuke," working at a nuclear security and regulation site in the mountainous U.S. West. Born into a clan with an undiagrammable family tree, she's never been truly close to any of her relatives except for her "blood brother" Sam, who was the son of her father's brother (and mother's husband). Ariel's dysfunctional familial relationships take on sinister overtones beginning from the day of Sam's funeral in San Francisco.

Ariel hasn't seen Sam in years; the last time she spoke with him, he hinted at being in the employ of a multi-governmental organization. Reported dead from a car-bomb detonation, Sam has, to Ariel's surprise, made her sole executor of his estate. What all her far-flung and emotionally distant relations are suddenly extremely interested in is one part of Sam's estate: manuscripts left to him by their grandmother Pandora. Ariel quickly discovers that Sam is not dead but in hiding, and that both of their lives are in grave danger because of these cryptic papers and the secrets held within. Ariel must trust no one; everyone is suspect -- her "Jack" Mormon landlord and co-worker Olivier; her own father; and especially the devastatingly handsome German "nuke" who she's assigned to accompany on a fact-finding mission to the former Soviet Union.

Ariel's family members start crawling out of the woodwork, all eager to warn and assist her in her struggle to decipher the importance and meaning of Pandora's manuscripts. She narrowly escapes with her life several times in trying to guard her knowledge of the existence and whereabouts of Sam and the coded manuscripts. Perhaps most perilously of all, she finds herself falling deeply in love -- or at least lust -- with Wolfgang Hauser, her new nuclear-investigation partner. As her family's knotted interrelations start untangling for her, a horrifying bond with one of the world's most infamous madmen is revealed, making all the more dangerous and vital Ariel's attempts to decipher her cryptic inheritance.

The most enjoyable chapters of The Magic Circle involve characters at the time of and following Christ's death. Corrupt Caesars, enigmatic Druids, and Jesus' friends and followers are the most colorful in the novel. The connections between ancient times and Ariel's modern drama are forced; the great mystery of the manuscripts and the ultimate truths to be revealed by their decryption are left unsolved and unspoken, both in the stories of the ancients and of Ariel and her sprawling, libidinous and secretive family. But with intriguing peeks into Christ's world, Hitler's obsessions, and well-turned chapter-break quotes from numerous sources, The Magic Circle will especially delight those who can't resist ancient prophecies or any theory involving conspiracy.

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