The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon are notorious for their meteoric rise and equally sudden demise. “The Last Templar ” by Raymond Khourie (on which the NBC miniseries is based) is one of the novels which revolve around the famous (and famously lost) Templar treasure.
In 1291, the Templars are fighting for their last stronghold in Holy Land, Acre. Two Knights, Martin and Aimard, are charged by the Prefect to carry the news of loss and the Templar treasure back to Paris aboard Falcon Temple.
700 years later, in New York, 4 horsemen dressed in medieval armor gatecrash the opening ceremony of exhibition showing the treasures of Vatican. Archeologist Tess Chaykin, who was one of the victims of the attack, starts investigating the resemblance of the attackers to Knights Templar, and the importance of a mechanical device they stole. Meanwhile FBI agent Sean Ryan (Sean Daley in the series) finds the leads of his investigation (overseen by Vatican emissary Monsignor De Angelis) being cleaned up.
The story is much more a quest than a suspense. Before half the book is over, the identities and motivations of the actors involved are known (or guessed), and the search for the treasure of Falcon Temple takes centre stage. It also is a debate between Faith and Truth, between dogma and the faith that permeates the life of common people.
There are quite a few differences in media version and the book. William Vance is no longer motivated by grief, and is almost reduced to a common greedy treasure-hunter. The book moves between Martin’s (the last living Templar) journey to understand and come to terms with the secret Aimard is carrying, and the search in current times. But the tv version has Martin and Aimard equally knowledgeable.
But perhaps the biggest change is in Tess’ character. Tess Chaykin in the book is a common archeologist and a single mom, far cry from the Miss Indiana Jones (or actually, Miss Lara Croft given the gender) that the miniseries shows us. Her interest in the story is strictly academic (limited to Templars). She is placed in the middle of Sean’s investigation by chance, and does not barge into it as in the series. Tess in the book is torn between her budding relationship with Sean, and the discovery of lifetime that awaits her. Tess on TV on the other hand almost comes out as a tomb raider, who doesn’t care much about Sean except flirting with him.
But then, both the book and the series contain enough cinematic scenes to drown this out. Right from the first scene of 4 Knights riding out of Central Park, to the ill-fated voyage of Falcon Temple and its recovery provide a huge stage on which events are taking place. Which is why you can easily enjoy each version independent of each other (though the historical basis for the central premise is really thin, even compared to other books in the Vatican Secrets genre). Just don’t compare them as I had to, having read the book.
And while we are on the subject of comparison, why the need to provide a “closure” to the Templar secret? It almost seems NBC didn’t want angry letters from Christians, and so didn’t keep the question of authenticity open as in the book.
P.S. This is second time I have come across a female character “enabled” in TV version of the book. But then, the first time (Legend of the Seeker) gave us Kahlan in leather Mord Sith costume, so I am not complaining. 😉