First Line: At first sight, fifty yards off, he couldn't tell who it was walking through the rain, only that the slow-moving form emerging from the shattered village of Neuville-Vitasse was a British soldier.
Just before Christmas in the town of Lausanne, Switzerland, three people will meet in the ancient cathedral beneath which a secret was buried before time began.
Marc Rochat is the young man who calls the hour from the belfry of Lausanne Cathedral each night. He will tell you that he's "strong from the legs up"-- if he's not talking with the cathedral bells, responding to the mews of Monsieur Booty, his cat, or running away from the bad shadows that are gathering.
The young American, Katherine Taylor, is living the tax-free, designer label dream in Switzerland. An extremely beautiful (and extremely high-priced) prostitute, she's just about to find out that her life is indeed too good to be true.
The third person is private investigator Jay Harper, who wakes up in a hotel room with no memory, a love of watching the History Channel, and a job in Lausanne that he has no choice but to accept.
Three very different people who eventually learn that they have one objective: save what little is left of paradise before all hell breaks loose.
If you're in the mood for something in the wham, bam, thank you ma'am genre, do not pick up this book. You won't like it. However, if you're in the mood for an atmospheric work of art in which each of the hundreds of layers is painstakingly applied until you find yourself lost in the canvas and the close intimate friend of its inhabitants Marc, Katherine and Jay... well, you've picked up the right book.
Steele sets his stage meticulously, so there's not much action until the 250 page mark, but I didn't care because he was bringing the town of Lausanne, its citizens, the cathedral, and those three main characters to living, breathing life. As Harper himself says, "Bloody hell, just keeps getting better."
Steele acknowledges in his book that he wrote the first draft of The Watchers in the belfry loge of Lausanne Cathedral. His writing shows a deep love and appreciation of the ancient timbers and bells. I didn't find it odd that the character of Marc listened and spoke to them. Things that old are going to have stories to tell, and someone needs to listen.
All three characters are beautifully realized, and it's difficult for me to choose a favorite between them. The book has a strong foundation consisting of historic fact, an ancient Jewish text, and the literary classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The only thing that didn't win me over completely was the ending. I was ready for something that would knock my socks off, and it fell a bit short-- probably so there would be enough pieces left for the sequels that are to follow!
If you want to pick up a book and lose all track of time, The Watchers is for you.
The Watchers by Jon Steele
Blue Rider Press ©2012
Hardcover, 592 pages