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Reagan Library Chief Weaves a Dramatic and Must-Read Thriller

'The Second Coming' will surprise readers for a whole host of reasons — new review by Craig Shirley

Making a hard-science thriller understandable is a challenge.

Making a hard-science and religious thriller explicable is almost impossible.

The density of explanation hangs so heavily on the narrative that it often collapses in on itself like a literary black hole.  Yet John Heubusch’s “The Second Coming” organically incorporates Ph.D.-level concepts into a narrative that glides at such a deft pace that one is never “spaghettified” by the weight.

Heubusch’s second novel, like the first, is fast-paced — partly Indiana Jones, part Dan Brown, all an upbeat thriller. Heubusch’s day job (he’s shown above) is maintaining and extending the legacy of Ronald Reagan as the head of the Reagan Library and Foundation, which is a very worthy venture, to say the least.

By evening, though, he puts on another hat and writes marvelous thrillers, which effortlessly take the reader to another place.

The highly anticipated sequel to “The Shroud Conspiracy,” “The Second Coming” (out last month and available on Amazon) continues the story of an atheist anthropologist, Dr. Jon Bondurant, and the pious Domenika Josef, who deal with the fallout of cloning a human from the legendary Shroud of Turin.

The novel, much like its predecessor, uses a very concise chapter structure to enhance the suspense with tremendous success. Though it is an effective tool that keeps the story moving briskly, it is the journey of Bondurant that will keep readers turning the page.

While Bondurant has evolved somewhat from harshly judging those who practice their faith, he is no true believer. His early unwillingness to surrender even the simplest social courtesies of paying lip service to some fashions of faith can easily infuriate the reader at points, yet Heubusch never lets the good doctor slip too far from redemption.

The brilliance of Heubusch is on full display as he flips the familiar paradigm of a holy man coming to terms with science to a man of science coming to terms with not the question of religion but the reality of religion before him. He is forced to ask tough questions that challenge his core. If science is grounded in empirical facts and data, what does one do when all the facts and empirical data refute the science in which they are grounded?

What’s so refreshing about the science and religion employed in this work is the fidelity to fact. Too many authors attempting to write fiction of this nature will employ science and religion when convenient, only to cast it aside when it proves tedious to the plot.

If science is grounded in empirical facts and data, what does one do when all the facts and empirical data refute the science in which they are grounded?

Heubusch refuses to do so. Instead, the hard science and religion act as a launch pad for greater concepts to be explored. Even the locations discussed feel well-researched. At one point Bondurant describes his routine of escaping to the Blues Alley in Georgetown after he’s overserved at the Four Seasons, for example.

One gets the feeling that little touches like this might not be entirely fiction to Heubusch. These additions speak volumes about a writer determined to get his story right.

Giving his world this strong foundation makes the fiction that emanates from it all the more believable.

It’s difficult to say much without giving away the show — but expect surprises throughout each chapter; also, there’s violence.

Heubusch has a knack for vivid brutality. Though he is never gratuitous, the reader feels the gravity of every life taken.

At just over 350 pages, “The Second Coming” moves remarkably fast while still maintaining depth and emotional heft. Readers will be surprised at how quickly they consume this book — and will hope this epic was intended for a trilogy.

Craig Shirley is a New York Times best-selling author and presidential historian. He has written four books on President Ronald Reagan, along with his latest book, “Citizen Newt: The Making of a Reagan Conservative,” about the early career of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. He lectures frequently at the Reagan Library and is the Visiting Reagan Scholar at Eureka College in Illinois, the 40th president’s alma mater. He also wrote the critically acclaimed “December 1941.”