Richard Jones on a historian’s thriller with Knights, Nazis and alchemists in the mix

The race for the Ark of the Covenant may be a well- worn fictional path but this novel has a lead character whose escapades wouldn't look out of place in a comic book.

Indiana Holmes, sorry Dr Ava Curzon, is a former MI6 officer turned museum curator who combines the daring and resolve of the Hollywood archaeologist with the razor-sharp mental agility of a Conan Doyle super sleuth. Her nemesis Malchus is an archetypal pantomime villain with all the evil traits you’d expect of an acolyte of Himmler who earned his dastardly spurs as a Stasi officer before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

As the somewhat convoluted and bloody story unravels, the quest for not only the Ark, but also the Menorah and the sword of Moses, assumes a life of its own, with the plot moving so quickly the reader is at times left gasping for breath.

The search for clues for the sword of Moses takes her to the Bodelian Library and the Botanic Garden in Oxford. As the connection to the Knights Templar and its latter-day fictional embodiment in the freemasons take on real significance, the author’s attention to historical detail adds credibility and context to the plot. Selwood knows Oxford well because he spent some years here researching the knights of the crusades.

However, as the quest gathers momentum the good doctor, with her trusty side-kick Major Ferguson, begins to crack codes quicker than a stellar team of Bletchley Park operatives. There are just too many eureka moments and as a result the suspense becomes muted and gradually what should be a page turner takes on an unfortunate air of predictability. The final confrontation between good and evil at the castle built to embody Himmler’s occultist and extremist vision is both violent and anti-climactic.

Good triumphs and the embryonic Fourth Reich is left bloodied and bereft of the religious artefacts which the baddies thought would bring them a form of evil enlightenment.

This book is undoubtedly well researched and with a contemporary feel for the ongoing power of religion to divide and destroy, but I found it too long and felt it would have benefited from an ending more Hollywood than Baker Street.

The Sword of Moses
By Dominic Selwood
Corax, £14.99

Ancient clues lead a museum curator on trail of a dastardly plot