Friday, November 6, 2015

"Bone Box" by Jay Amberg

Bone Box
by Jay Amberg

Jay Amberg's Bone Box is currently on tour with Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours. The tour stops here today for a guest post by the author, an excerpt, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

On a hill overlooking the Aegean Sea in Turkey, an international team of archeologists discovers a stone box that first-century Jews used to rebury their dead. The box’s Aramaic inscription: Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. Sophia Altay, the beautiful French-Turkish archeologist who heads the team, tries to keep the discovery secret until she can authenticate the ossuary. She knows that people will kill to obtain the relics - and to suppress the box’s other contents, documents that could alter Western history.
Joseph Travers, an American sent to Turkey to evaluate the archeological dig, soon finds himself pulled into the web of betrayal, reprisal, and violence. In his journey through Istanbul’s mosques and palaces, the archeological sites around ancient Ephesus, and, ultimately, the strange and mystical terrain of Cappadocia, he comes to understand the epochal meaning of the bone box.

Uncovering the Ossuary (from Chapter 2)
The sky is cobalt, but the sun is already low—and little light reaches the trench in which the two men work. The evening air is hot and still as though it has hung there for centuries. Sweat soaks the stout man’s sleeveless T-shirt and mats the gray and white hair on his arms and shoulders. His nose is bulbous above his mustache, the top of his head bald except for long strands of hair hanging limply over his left ear. He grunts as he pushes dirt aside with his trowel. The taller, younger man is more careful, but he, too, breathes hard as he whisks dirt with his brush. The discovery, far more than the exertion, is taking his breath. He is clean-shaven; his features are fine, his black hair thick. Neither man speaks until they have completely uncovered the ancient ossuary, the bone box.
When the stout man stands, his head is still well below the trench line. He stabs the trowel into a pile of dirt, wipes his grimy hands on his pants, pulls up the front of his shirt, and smears the sweat from his face. He picks up an empty plastic water bottle, glares at it, and tosses it next to the trowel. The younger man sets his hands on his hips, catches his breath, and stares at the ossuary. The bone box, a meter long and seventy centimeters wide, seems to glow even in the trench’s shadows. Although he can’t read the words etched into the stone, he recognizes them as Aramaic. The symbols—the equal-armed cross within the circle within the six-pointed star—are familiar, but their juxtaposition is not.
As the call to prayer begins, a cirrus horsetail swirls through the rectangle of sky. The voice barely carries into the trench, but the two men turn and stand still. The heavy man murmurs prayers, and the thin one bows his head in silence, his prayer of a different sort. A prayer of both gratitude and supplication. A prayer that this ossuary is what he yearns for it to be. The cloud’s wispy tail snaps clear.
When the echo of prayer ceases, the stout man squats and digs his fingers under the corners of the bone box.
“Wait!” the young man says in Turkish. “She should be here. We must wait for her.”
Glowering across the box, the stout man grabs the hand-pick he used earlier.
“No!” The young man stoops and presses his palms on the ossuary’s lid. “She must open it.” His face reddens, and his fingers burn as though the ossuary is too sacred, too hallowed, too inviolable, to be touched by humans.
The stout man swings the pick across the young man’s knuckles.
The young man leaps back, his eyes wide. His mouth opens, but words don’t form. Blood beads on the index and middle fingers of his right hand.
The stout man leans over and jams the pick’s tip under the rim of the ossuary’s lid. As he pushes the handle with both hands, getting his weight into it, the lid creaks open. Keeping the pick in place as a wedge, he kneels and runs his stubby fingers under the lid. Stale air rises as he lifts the lid, holds it to his sweating chest, and stares into the box.
Despite himself, despite his stinging fingers and welling tears, the young man steps forward and peers into the box. Making the sign of the cross repeatedly, he takes a series of deep breaths in an unsuccessful attempt to calm himself. Blood trickles down his hand and drops, bright splotches darkening into sandy soil. Blinding sacrosanct light rises from the ossuary, weaving around them and spiraling from the trench. He glances at the stout man who is unable to see the light, runs his hand through his hair, and gazes back into the box. He cannot draw his eyes from the contents, though his pupils might at any second be seared and his skin peel away. The moment is every bit as frightening as it is exhilarating. His blood boils—the Janissary blood, the blood of his lost ancestors, the wanderers and cave dwellers alike. There is much more to this even than he imagined, much more to it than she will at first believe.

Praise for the Book
Award-Winning Finalist, Thriller, 2015 Readers’ Favorite Book Award Contest
Award-Winning Finalist, Thriller, 2015 National Indie Excellence Awards
Award-Winning Finalist, Thriller/Adventure, 2015 International Book Awards
"A … well-written, fast-paced thriller that follows in the footsteps of The Da Vinci Code and Indiana Jones." ~ KirkusReviews
"This story takes you on an incredible and dusty journey from Istanbul to ancient Ephesus, Izmir, and Cappadocia, blended with Christianity, archaeology and Islam, described with accurate detail to bring the story alive ... Jay Amberg is a master of description and intrigue … the plot and characters are believable and interesting ... keeps you guessing through each and every chapter. A cross between The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown) and The Sign of the Cross (Chris Kuzneski) this is an 'un-put-downable' book of the highest quality." ~ Julie Hodgson, Readers’ Favorite
"A mystery of biblical proportions right down to the very last page. As the story unfolds, the characters’ histories, weaknesses, and ambitions are brought to light through their interactions with one another: the lies they tell, the crimes they are willing to commit, and the truths they are willing to confide only to the right person at the right time. And yet, as Joseph and Abrahim put themselves in harm’s way to protect what has become so precious to them, we wonder: What truths are some people willing to die for?" ~ Ruth Duran-Chea, San Francisco Book Review
"A reflective thriller that will leave you catching your breath while illuminating your own sense of connection with our shared past." ~ Michele Fitzpatrick, Author, The Women’s Center
"The lingering questions of what’s real and what isn’t keeps the reader invested in the story. It’s not just the mystery about what’s inside the ossuary and if the artifacts are authentic ... Politics, religion, sexuality, culture, deceit, greed, and prejudices turn this thriller into a page-turner. There’s a need to find out what will happen with the bones and letters, but there’s also a desire to know what will happen to the characters ... The stories within the story demand attention and remind us that one event can be perceived rightly or wrongly from several perspectives." ~ T.B. Markinson, Self-Publishing Review
"Will mystify, entrance, enthrall and captivate readers." ~ Fran Lewis, JustReviews

Guest Post by the Author
Researching Bone Box
I began researching Bone Box with a central question in mind: What if a particular ossuary (a bone box used by Jews in the first century of the common era to rebury their dead) were discovered at an archeological site? I knew, given the story’s plot, that the archeological site had to be near the Aegean Sea in what was then called Asia Minor and is now southwestern Turkey. The mystery in the story stems from the possibility that John the Apostle took Mary, the mother of Jesus of Nazareth, to Asia Minor before the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. This idea is, by the way, widely accepted in Catholicism and other Christian traditions.
With every novel I’ve written, I’ve read voraciously about the characters’ professions and the plots’ settings. In the case of Bone Box, I read sources as varied as The University of Chicago Oriental Institute’s Annual Report to Eyewitness Books’ Archeology. I’ve interviewed knowledgeable people (archeologists, museum directors, cops, TV producers ...). But with each of my novels I’ve also visited many of the settings - London, Las Vegas, the Florida Keys, the redwood forests in California ... Being present in a particular place and noting the sensory imagery really helps me to see the characters’ actions, hear their words, and feel their emotions.
I went to Turkey thinking that perhaps half of Bone Box would be set there. Istanbul bustled, of course, and I found spots where some of the characters would meet, where they’d eat and drink, and where and how the mystery, the crimes, would begin to play out. The city was more European than I expected (after all, it’s Constantinople, too), but the Ottoman and Islamic overlay, Topkapı Palace and the mosques and the calls to prayer, provided enough mystery to intrigue me and to subsequently disorient Joe Travers, Bone Box’s main character.
After Istanbul, I visited archeological sites in and around the ancient Roman city of Ephesus. The digs at the Terrace Houses were particularly good examples of the care and attention and meticulous work that archeology requires. Because the story I was writing emanates from a mixture of what actually happened and what might have happened in Asia Minor in the First Century, I was especially interested in the archeological site at Saint John’s Cathedral on Ayasuluk Hill near the town of Selçuk. Standing on Ayasuluk Hill, I could see remnants of much of Western religious and political history - a Selçuk Turk citadel, the ruins of a Christian cathedral, a still thriving medieval mosque, the Temple of Artemis, Ephesus, and the Aegean Sea. It’s all right there. And I understood that my story would turn on what happened there long ago and on what might happen there now. I knew, too, in that moment, that most, if not all, of the story would be set in Turkey.
Cappadocia was a revelation as well. It’s like no other place on earth, a vast landscape of rock spires and gorges formed by deep time. Cone shaped tufa pillars capped with basalt cluster in valleys. Saint Paul originally converted the region’s inhabitants, and for more than a thousand years the people carved homes and churches into the soft rock. They also built huge underground cities to protect themselves from marauding Arabs. Many of the churches survive with their beautiful frescoes intact. It all took my breath, and I understood where and how the story would have to end.
My characters came alive for me there in Turkey, interacting with and confronting each other, speaking and sometimes listening, at times loyal or disloyal, in moments cowardly or heroic. The rest of my research (and there was still a whole lot of reading and interviewing to do) drew from my time spent in Istanbul and Ephesus and Cappadocia.

About the Author
Jay Amberg is the author of eleven books. He received a BA from Georgetown University and a PhD from Northwestern University. He has taught high school and college students since 1972.
His latest book, Bone Box, is now available from Amika Press. Amberg has also published Cycle, America’s Fool, Whale Song, and compiled 52 Poems for Men.
Prior to Amika Press, Amberg published thriller novels Doubloon (Forge), Blackbird Singing (Forge) and Deep Gold (Warner Books).
Among his books on teaching are School Smarts and The Study Skills Handbook, published by Good Year. Amberg wrote The Creative Writing Handbook (Good Year) with Mark Henry Larson and Verbal Review and Workbook for the SAT (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich) with Robert S Boone.

Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win one of five paperback copies of Bone Box by Jay Amberg (US only).