||The Review of: The Judas Kiss
by Desmond McNally
If you dislike long, complicated tomes then this 'little' novel should suit you perfectly. The use of the adjective 'little' is meant only to indicate the book's length and dimensions, not to diminish this effort by Rickards.
In the opening chapter we are introduced to Dr. Steven del Prado who has discovered seeds from a plant that will not only prolong life, but will make the recipient of its properties shed years, and perhaps even become immortal. Realizing he must convince others of the seeds' efficacy in order to sell both the seeds and the location of the mother plant, del Prado arranges a meeting with prospective buyers.
The kind of money del Prado is looking to earn is only available from large pharmaceutical companies. The presidents of four such companies are therefore invited to the meeting. These four men, now in their mid-seventies, are former schoolmates of del Prado. All four are described as unscrupulous and greedy, but they are convinced of the effectiveness of the seeds by a youthful del Prado-you have guessed right! Sadly, it doesn't take long for del Prado to meet his Maker. Meanwhile, we meet the evil Gideon Baldock, who comes to possess one of the seeds. But how?
The author takes us to London's Kew Gardens, where Dr. Diego Crantz, a Botanist/Researcher is helping Baldock to find the location of the mother plant. At Kew the pair discover a crude map and a riddle in verse that was written in 1861 by an English explorer. The verse makes a cryptic reference to "The Spaniard" who appears to be the guardian of the mother plant. This document convinces the two that the plant in question grows high in the Andes in Bolivia. Diego's uncle Karl, a mountaineer, is hired to be their guide, and that is where we head for to next.
The scene then shifts forward two and a half years, and we meet Diego's wife, Marian, a doctor, who has been told that her husband is missing and presumed dead. She is alarmed when asked to attend to a dying patient who turns out to be Karl Crantz.
From there the narrative shifts back and forth from Bolivia and the hunt for the plant, and the hospital, where Karl has a fascinating story to tell Marian. This is how we discover the identity of "The Spaniard" and what becomes of Baldock and Diego Crantz-quite an imaginative solution!
Rickards is an orthopaedic surgeon who was born in Quebec. A man of medicine, he makes both his interest in the subject matter and his opinion of pharmaceutical giants amply clear. While The Judas Kiss may not win any literary awards, Rickards's style has an admirable crispness. This novel is a little too scant for my liking. It would have benefited greatly from the inclusion of a meaningful sub-plot.