Murderer In The Mikdash
Previous entries in this 4-skills integration series are:
Last week we started dissecting a novel, Murderer in the Mikdash.
I hope you've read the novel by now.
We are looking for reasons it didn't make it into Mass Market Paperback, and what to do to fix that. So we will include "spoilers" (which won't spoil the read for you even if you haven't read the book yet -- this book is that good! You can't spoil it.)
The same author has done a number of non-fiction works, and blogs and lectures.
The book, Murderer in the Mikdash is a Mystery and a Romance -- but the ending of the Romance thread is ambiguous and open while the Mystery thread definitively resolves its conflict.
In a twitter conversation with the author, I learned that the Romance thread will continue into the sequel.
So let's examine the 4 elements this series on Theme-Plot-Character-Worldbulding Integration discusses to see how they are used in Murderer In The Mikdash.
Remember the 2 and 4 technique integration posts are "advanced" -- they are written assuming you've mastered the individual skills we have discussed individually and in pairs and that you are ready to walk-and-chew-gum.
The Romance thread ends with the couple abandoning what appears to be a Soul Mate Relationship because of fundamental philosophical differences that typically do destroy marriages.
So the parting of the main couple at the end has an element of Mature Judgement. These are sensible people with very pragmatic attitudes gained through a lot of pain, disappointment, and draining anxiety.
You respect the main couple because of that Maturity, but at the same time want to throw the novel across the room because it disappoints in the end, and you are screaming at the female lead, NO NO NO!!! You idiot! You coward! You can't do that!!!
So it's not an HEA ending to the love-story plot, and it's not even an HFN ending (Happily For Now). It's more a QWA ending (Quit While Ahead.)
This couple agreed to part (and one big flaw in the writing is that they agreed to part off-stage, not in a Big Blowup Fight at the airport, getting one of them nabbed by Security.)
Apparently, both of them agreed to part for the same reason. Remember the ending to Casablanc
a? That's what this novel needed and didn't get. Remember the ending to Gone With The Wind
? That's what this novel needed and didn't get.
None of the previous scenes showed them arguing over the point that eventually separates them. The point is well defined within the narrative, and it is there in show-don't-tell, but it is not discussed in dialogue via SUBTEXT.
This is one pervasive failing in the Dialogue techniques used in this novel: scenes are not powered by combat-couched-in-dialogue, and the real issues are not presented in subtext. Dialogue is used to move the plot but not often to move the story. Dialogue is used to impart information to the reader, but sometimes not to the characters.
All we learn about their incompatible religious views we know from ON-THE-NOSE dialogue, not subtextual conversation.
We don't have enough information via subtext to decide for ourselves whether they could (or should) make a life together despite their different personal religious convictions and attitudes. The facts are there, but the subtext is not. Readers doubt text and believe subtext. So one tool for convincing readers to suspend disbelief is not used.
The plot of this novel is pure mystery - leaving no room for one member of the the proto-couple to act to convince the other to change attitude. What action in that direction there was turned out to be ineffective, and not driven by the kind of heroic determination we expect of Soul Mates overcoming obstacles.
Remember the TV Series Beauty and the Beast
? (not the Disney cartoon!) That dimension is missing from Murderer in the Mikdash, but it would have worked fabulously well.
Or maybe the TV Series LOIS AND CLARK
(an all-time favorite of mine).
In both those Urban Fantasy Romance series, you have the love story between a very human woman and an alien man -- a man with secrets, with powers, with complicated issues. In fact that describes the reason Star Trek spawned so much fanfic: Spock/Viewer Relationship.
That is the overall genre that the core Romance material behind Murderer in the Mikdash seems to belong to. Rachel Tucker, the ABC TV News Anchor (Lois) is pretty ordinary among human women. The disqualified Cohen she seems so very interested in is so very-very the "mild mannered" coffee shop owner by day and the immensely talented psychological counselor (Cohen-skills-set) by night. That Cohen is Superman-wrapped-in-Vincent-Clothing.
For all intents and purposes, in our real modern world, a Cohen involved in the Third Temple operations would fill the spot in the Cast of Characters reserved in Alien Romance for The Alien -- such a character is a mysterious-mystery as alluring as Spock in STAR TREK.
The market for this kind of real-life-alien-character is enormous and untapped.
Fiction such as Lois & Clark
and Beauty and the Beast
strikes deep into the heart of every woman and gets at least a double-take from every man such a woman would be interested in.
In Lois&Clark on TV, we rarely get those subtext-rich conversations about why they can't "be together." But in the Lois and Clark films, we do indeed get a few moments of such conversations, mostly in subtext and imagery (remember a film is a "story in pictures."). Who can forget any of those flying scenes with Lois -- or the balcony scene?
In Beauty and the Beast
, the TV series, we do get many such discussions both on-the-nose and very off-the-nose deep in subtext.
It is those conversations that readers live for.
The Mystery part of the Plot of Murderer in the Mikdash (Is Her Husband Dead or Alive? Was her best friend murdered? Did it have something to do with her husband's disappearance?) has a big, firm platform built so that when that question is resolved, you believe the resolution. It's a solid Mystery. And it's an irresistible page-turner of a Mystery.
The other part of this novel's structure that is exemplary is the Futurology. Even as well done as it is, it does illustrate the dangers of working in a near-future world.
The book, set in Israel, was published in 2006 when smartphones weren't prevalent in Israel. It was probably conceptualized a few years before that when the importance of the smartphone as an element in Mystery Solving was not apparent --- so characters in this novel write too much on paper, do not Google or use a Maps app (but do have GPS), and they do phone. They also don't use Facetime or videochat.
Given the recent release of iPhone 6+ and even sharper ones for 2015, some of the Galaxy Note and Lumia phones, the worldbuilding of Murderer in the Mikdash seems just "off" because the ABC news anchor Rachel Tucker (main female character) uses a separate "device" as a camera until her ABC cameraman arrives. And she uses film-based thinking.
Today you can get broadcast quality video off an iPhone. With a small tripod and a lens-addition, an iPhone can do top-notch broadcast quality images. What will the 2016 iPhone be able to do? 2017?
In 2006, the idea of a phone that could do that kind of video was ridiculous. Not only that but TV screens and broadcast quality was much less.
So the author can't be faulted for the plot-wrinkle that has the "camera" get left in a car when it was most needed, or the worldbuilding problem of a camera that couldn't photograph hand written pages with enough clarity for them to be legible. Today we deposit checks via phone. Who knew?
An anchor would have an ABC issued top-notch phone, no nonsense. And if the company wouldn't spring for a great phone, the heroic woman we want to identify with would have bought one for herself.
Look again at the title of this blog series -- Theme-Plot-Character-Worldbuilding. Note that I started discussing Murderer in the Mikdash last week by pointing out issues with the genre signature and saleability of the novel. Targeting an Audience
Targeting an Audience is the first thing you do before you frame the Idea into a story that generates a plot. You define your audience before you build characters from the substance of the World you created.
If you don't do it in that order, you'll end up doing it in that order upon rewrite, or perhaps at editorial direction. At some point in the production process, you will run the process in this order: audience, world, character, plot, theme. At other points, other orders will prevail.
If you do public speaking and use anecdotes, jokes and stories to illustrate points, you know that you can tell the same anecdotes, jokes and stories over and over to different audiences and every time you will frame the story differently.
You learn with practice that what you are saying can always be the same, but how you say it has to vary with to whom you are saying it.
So when a writer knows they have a story to tell, the first step is to look up and see who's listening, then frame the presentation accordingly.
You don't have to compromise who you are, or write to a "formula" to sell Mass Market. You have to find your audience, and talk to that audience. The editor who has to feed that audience will grab your manuscript after reading the first 5 pages, if you nail it.
Murderer in the Mikdash has a perfect opening 5 pages for an Amateur Detective Mystery -- the opening events that later unfold into a whole ball of yarn have the right symbolism, and all the things the novel eventually presents are rolled up into that ball of yarn.
The Mystery plot of Murderer in the Mikdash has the right opening, the correct middle in the correct place, with an ending that ends off with neat precision.
The characters are introduced in the correct order, at exactly the right pages. The mystery-conflict is perfectly presented.
If you want to sell mass market - you have to read this novel and discover why it didn't make mass market. Then compare this novel with what you write, and figure out how to aim your material at Mass Market Editors.
The differences in your story are not about what you say, but to whom you say it. You must speak in the audience's language. This novel speaks MYSTERY exceptionally well. It even has the proper Action Sequences in the correct places.
So while staring at the audience, knowing who you have to captivate, decide how to talk to them, then use that to build the world you will tell them your story within.
That world is built from the unconscious assumptions that bind that audience into a whole. Build the world right, and the audience will all laugh in unison, tear up at the same time, gasp in the right spots, and give you a standing ovation (OK, for a writer, it's buy the next book.)
Murderer in the Mikdash
is a genuine Futuristic and the Worldbuilding of that Future vision is as solid as I have ever seen from any Science Fiction writer.
Because the "science" behind this novel's fiction is not physics, math and chemistry, not even psychology, or even parapsychology, but actual Biblical Prophecy, the novel is not Science Fiction.
If it were fake Biblical Prophecy it might be classed as SF. If it were say, Chinese or African mythology of an alternate universe, or re-imagined Ancient Greek mythology, it would be classed as Fantasy.
As it is, the novel is more like "the Future" as depicted in the film Back To The Future:
You've read (and maybe written) any number of excellent Fantasy Romances that use various mythologies in place of the Science that science fiction uses. That's why they are called Fantasy -- they use some mythology in place of science, and most often today, re-imagine the real mythology, rewriting mythologies freehand.
Some term the product of this kind of re-written mythology Science Fantasy, others are trying to popularize an umbrella term, Speculative Fiction.
Murder in the Mikdash
uses real Biblical Prophecy (not rewritten or re-imagined) for the worldbuilding the same way Vampire Romances use the various different Vampire mythologies found in various cultures around the Earth.
Murder in the Mikdash
is more like science fiction.
Science fiction uses our real-world science that you read about in peer-reviewed publications and extrapolates from that science. Murder in the Mikdash
uses real-world Prophecy you can read in very-very old editions of the Bible or modern translations and extrapolates from that real Prophecy using the same cognitive skills a science fiction writer uses.
To me, the precision of the thinking behind the futuristic worldbuilding in Murderer in the Mikdash
This novel, by itself, (nevermind the flaws I point out) is a lesson in Depiction.
The worldbuilding is fabulous, and that world is depicted with a tight, disciplined focus that any writer in any genre would do well to emulate.
Murder in the Mikdash
is set around the year 2048 (in other words, now), a few years after the Messiah is identified as of the line of David and is set on the throne as King of the New Israel (as prophesied).
None of the creation of that throne is detailed in the book -- which is a great strength of the book, and to the writer's credit. It is a perfect choice in the worldbuilding. The Arrival becomes backstory.
At the time of the story, the Kingdom is changing things among the nations fast. Peace with the neighbors is setting in. About 2/3 of the people are making contact with G-d, and that contact is changing social interactions slowly, plausibly, but emphatically.
Oh, I should explain MIKDASH is the Hebrew word for the Temple in Jerusalem -- the one on the spot with that other building sitting there right now. At the time of this story, there is a nifty new Temple built on that spot and it is fully functional with all the offerings and ceremonies being done by Cohen descendants. The Levy descendants attend to infrastructure details (alas, we never get to hear them sing, though).
In this new world, the way you make contact with God is to go to the Temple and do whatever offerings the instructions detail for you, or just watch.
When you do that, it changes you, gradually, gently, barely perceptibly, but in an enjoyable way. Going to the Temple services becomes habit forming because it's so pleasant. People who start going, tend to keep on going -- even if they have to move to Israel to be nearby enough to make it often.
Some of the characters in this book never go to the Temple. Others go every day. Others on special occasions. Through the array of characters and their behaviors, you get a feel for the impact of the Temple Service on the general behavior of the population. Characters and their behavior is the correct way to reveal to the reader all the delightful intricacies of the world you have built.
This author never resorts to the "info-dump" technique, the expository lump. There is no preface or throat-clearing awkwardness in Chapter One. You just leap right into the action and catch up as you go along. Perfect writing technique. You have to study this book.
As you meet the characters, you also get to know characters who see the Temple operations as a wonderful chance to attain wealth and power. And you see the opportunities that Organized Crime would spot in this nexus of wealth and power -- and those characters behave in the perfectly reasonable way any of them would behave today.
You see people in transition from one type of person to another type.
You see the resistance within well-meaning people to making the transition to a more G-d centered lifestyle.
Many issues in such transitions are raised but not addressed in this novel -- which is one reason I was convinced it needs many sequels, long ones, a TV Series, maybe a movie or three. There's a lot of material hidden in here.
I recall a novel from a long time ago by Herbert Tarr called The Conversion of Chaplain Cohen.
If that book could get published way back then, this one can make it today with a little tweaking.
If you like humor, you should read The Conversion of Chaplain Cohen.
Character arc issues involving religion or change of religious convictions are all very difficult for an author to handle plausibly for a wide audience.
Religious issues are, at this point in our social evolution, not mentionable in polite company. Political Correctness shuns any mention of religion, but especially of the exacting requirements of the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob upon these people, but not upon those.
Most readers of this blog don't remember when the word "sex" was not used in polite company. Now that word and many of its more vernacular synonyms are perfectly acceptable, but the word God is not acceptable. Nor is the Word of God (from any heritage).
That pendulum of social acceptability is about to start on its backswing. Murderer in the Mikdash
and its sequels may ride that new trend.
As authors of fiction about Soul Mates, you can catch that wave.
For all its being a "pure fantasy" of a future where Prophecy comes blatantly true in ways few expected it ever could, Murderer in the Mikdash
resonates with a pragmatic realism about human nature and what it takes to change it.
The Arrival of the Messiah does not cause all existing humans to suddenly become morally upstanding and angelically perfect. The Arrival is not depicted as an ending, but as only a beginning of a slow transition to a different general public attitude.
The specific details of individual behavior still run the gamut from Gentle Wisdom to Callous Viciousness, from Acquisitiveness and Avarice to Gracious Generosity, just as humans do today. The characters in Murderer in the Mikdash
That spectrum gives the Characters in this novel a depth and realism necessary when spinning a fabulous yarn. In an unrealistic world, the characters must be realistic. In a realistic world, the characters must be unrealistic (Superman/Clark).
So now we have examined the Target Audience of the novel, the Worldbuilding behind the plot and story, and now come to the Characters.
The main character is Rachel Tucker, an ABC News anchorwoman of some renown. She's Jewish, but for her it is a matter of ancestry, and the rest is ignored or shrugged off -- despite the very real presence of a descendant of King David on the throne of Israel.
Israel considers itself a benevolent dictatorship at the time of the novel. Rachel Tucker has been dragged into living there by her husband.
While she loved this man and was glad to marry him, even glad to bear him a son whom she loves dearly, the main force in her life is her career. Her husband interfered with that career by "dragging" her to Israel.
She commuted to New York as necessary but did a lot of her work from Israel -- even strove to find stories to cover from there. But she was feeling stress over that even before she got pregnant.
While she was pregnant, and was in Israel with her husband, he disappeared.
No notice, no trace, no hint he would "leave her" -- no harbingers of difficulty in the Relationship, no reason at all. He just didn't come home when expected.
At the time of the story, the baby has been born a couple weeks before.
As the story opens, Rachel has hired a daytime babysitter and spends her days following a guy she suspects might have murdered her best friend, a woman married to one of the Priests at the Temple.
The best friend died in the street recently (backstory, before the opening of this novel). The death was officially called Natural -- though the woman was young. The man Rachel is following was seen near the friend as she died.
In the course of unraveling this mystery, answering questions the Police can't or won't answer, Rachel uses all her investigative reporting skills and resources, and in the end nails at least one ring in a chain of organized crime rings (SEQUELS!!!) -- and earns a place in the Most Wanted lists of such organized crime rings. She has a knack for making enemies.
This plot drips of Good vs Evil themes in the abstract -- what is Good?; what is Evil? -- why do both exist in G-d's world? Potent stuff of which the best fiction is fabricated.
All those nebulous, abstract themes are wrapped up in a bundle and buried within the Angst Cabinetts inside the Characters. The reader hardly knows the issues are there -- but they drive the plot by driving the story which drives the Characters. All of it is present on page 1, in the symbolism.
Remember I use "Plot" to mean the sequence of Events chained together by the Because-Line (because this happens, A does that, because A did that, B does this, because B did this, that happens, because that happens, A does like-so, etc etc to AHA! and THE END).
I use "Story" to mean the sequence of significances to a character of the Events on the because-line. This happens - Character A feels that. Character A feels that, does such-and-so, which causes Character B to do something else, from which Character A learns ).
"Story" means the sequence of emotional-and-mental/spiritual lessons the Character takes from the Events of the Plot.
The plot ends in a climax.
The story ends in a moral.
Ideally both plot and story end in a single IMAGE, or event which crystalizes the reader's understanding of "why" things happened. The reader learns what the character learned.
Not all writing teachers use the same terminology, but all do make that distinction between story and plot.
In a well written novel, the reader can't see any difference between the story and the plot -- the integration is seamless and invisible from the outside.
Murder in the Mikdash has some problems with the Characterization, with the depiction of the characters more than with the characters themselves.
These problems arise from the need to make the material "accessible" to the general reader (not a genre reader), and they throw the composition out of the Genre categories where it might sell to Mass Market.
The choice of a major network news anchor for Female Point of View Character is ingenius, and one of the reasons I think this work could make a great film or COLUMBO-style TV Miniseries.
But don't forget the advice in SAVE THE CAT! by Blake Snyder, -- "Keep The Press Out Of It." This novel breaks that rule, but I think Blake Snyder would agree with me, it is the exception that proves the rule.
Pulling off the breaking of such a cardinal rule proves this author has both genius and vast discipline.
The choice of a disqualified Priest for the news anchor's love-interest and the core of the Romance plot is likewise perfect. As I said above, Vincent from Beauty and the Beast
or Clark from Lois&Clark.
The characterization problems arise in Plausibility. A genre Target Audience would have problems with Rachel Tucker's portrayal that a general Literature audience would not.
It appears the novel was originally designed to be marketed as general Literature, not Genre.
In a general market, the Characters would seem plausible to the reader. In Romance, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Suspense, genres the female character just isn't plausible.
It has been my observation that smarter, and either better educated or more widely educated, people tend to gravitate toward reading Genres, even if they also read a lot of general audience literature.
That's why Genre is mostly called "Mid-List" -- Genre doesn't sell to untold millions because the material is aimed at narrower slices of humanity, people with specialty tastes, but who buy books in disproportionate numbers. So Genre novels don't sell the most books -- and don't sell the least, but hit the "middle" of the sales statistics.
Mysteries, Westerns, Historicals, Romance, Science Fiction of all mixed genres, and almost all varieties of Fantasy require not just having an education but enjoying the process of becoming educated. This Mid-List reader segement learns stuff because learning itself is fun. Different genres are just different stuff to learn.
Genre readers tend to be people who love learning trivia -- the less useful the trivia in daily life, the more fun it is to acquire expertise in it. Just note what Gamers know about the worlds they play in.
Genre reading is a bus-man's-holiday for people who work in fields where they are paid for their acquired expertise in something.
Such people like learning, just for its own sake.
Rabbi Gidon Rothstein is an expert in the Biblical Prophets (among other things), and has infused Murderer in the Mikdash with a smattering of little bits of trivia to whet the appetite of the genre-reader for something new to learn, just for the hell of it.
General Literature readers don't get excited over learning Star Trek trivia like the rules of Fizbin or the Rules of Acquisition, and for the same reason would not delight in ferreting out and learning the rules of entry to the Temple. Geeks and Nerds would delight in a whole new set of trivia to become expert in.
Science Fiction, and futuristic fiction of all sub-genres, tends to draw in people whose main personality trait is curiosity.
Wish-fulfillment Fantasy for such people has to show-don't-tell the unfettered joys of satisfying Curiosity. And that is the essence of Romance of all kinds -- finding out things about the mysterious-stranger, reveling in the delight of revelation.
Action genres, such as Mysteries, Westerns, and Science Fiction, also require the main character to be Heroic as well as indefatigably curious.
Integrate those two elements into the 'formula' for a main character, the point-of-view character, for a Genre novel, and you have to have a Main Character who is Heroic in the Quest to Satisfy Curiosity.
Rachel Tucker ALMOST has that attribute.
We see it in her responses many times. She just won't let go, even when the fatigue of recent motherhood swamps her. She puts her baby first, but just won't let go of the mystery nobody is forcing her to solve. She just wants to know, and that means she has to know. That is the essence of her Character -- must-know what she wants to know.
Throughout the body of the novel, what Rachel Tucker does -- the PLOT -- illustrates that kind of won't-let-go heroism. Her day-job requires that kind of heroism, and in her interactions with people she interviews, she demonstrates an incisive ability to pose questions.
She has it all, except in one dimension.
To Integrate the Character with the Worldbuilding, and create Tucker as an "objective correlative" that the non-genre reading general audiences could identify with, she is given the trait of "just not paying attention" to the changes in the world around her, the implementation of Biblical Laws within a cell-phone-and-TV-News world.
This "not paying attention" trait gives the writer the chance to surprise her with details of the new world evolving under this new King of Israel. And it lets the author lead her into attempting an illegal act, the consequences of which eventually lead into her Cohen-quandry-Romance. The consequences of that one illegal act also lead her to solving two mysteries and putting away a good chunk of an Organized Crime Ring.
So her ignorance of what's really going on in this New Israel are integral to both plot and story. A rewrite can't fix that though it is a major impediment to selling this novel as Genre Mass Market.
If I had to solve this kind of Character-Plot Integration problem, I would have had the Law she violates be something she knows all about (because it's been in the news constantly for months as the Knesset members -- who are probably all Cohanim, Levites and Rabbis -- wrangle over how to do it, not whether, just how).
As she was about to give birth, it would have been plausible that she missed the announcements of laws passed making this and that city a "City of Refuge" and then, after they are established and people have moved, the final piece of legislation passes implementing the Law she violates. So then it would be perfectly understandable why she missed that one law and misunderstood the explanation of it when she did find out.
That she attempts an act which violates that Law is an absolute Plot requirement. So it has to be there. But somehow it has to be made plausible that a person of this calibre would not-know such a thing.
Such a person being ignorant is perfectly plausible to the typical reader of Literature.
Such a person being ignorant is unreal, impossible to identify with, for genre readers.
But at the same time, Rachel Tucker is too smart for general Literature readers -- too aggressive, too sharp minded, and way too famous to be their alter-ego in the story. She's LOIS in Lois&Clark. She is soooo Lois.
The author did not sell me on the idea of a Character who's that smart, that successful (Blessed by G-d), that well traveled, and who speaks and interviews on such a wide range of popular topics, could possibly not-know what she does not know.
So I'm just screaming mad that the novel is so spoiled by Rachel Tucker's ignorance of what everything in her character says she would know.
In other words, I take this novel very personally. You all know what a Lois&Clark fan I am. How can you write a Lois&Clark look-alike novel and make me disbelieve in Lois? This has gotten very personal!
And there you go with THE definition of a GREAT NOVEL.
A Great Novel is a novel that the readers take personally, and therefore do not want to end.
In other words, SEQUELLSSSSS!!!!! .
But no sequel can work with this out-of-Character trait that Rachel Tucker evidenced in Murderer in the Mikdash.
It is just not possible that such a woman would not know. Every time there's a change in any little bitty twist of Israeli Law, especially anything to do with Religion, the Jerusalem Post (in English) is filled wall to wall with discussion, articles, videos on the various factions arguing the points. People in the street are yelling at each other about it.
Now, yes, an ordinary person might wall all that noise out of their heads, (especially when pregnant) but not an internationally successful NEWS ANCHOR. Not LOIS!!! (remember the iconic scene of Lois hanging from the underside of the elevator in the Eifel Tower? Would she not-know???)
Choosing to make the lead Character a news anchor is an act of genius.
Making her ignorant of her adopted country's laws (however much she doesn't want to be there, and calls the USA home) undermines her Character in a way that makes her weak -- in a way no male character would be undermined. If Clark wasn't Superman, he could never have out-reported Lois, not even once.
OK, so now we come to the PLOT of Murderer in the Mikdash. I covered most of PLOT here above and last week.
It's near perfect as a plot. I read a lot of mysteries, but I don't write genre-mystery. I do know what goes into the writing, though, and I know marketable mystery manuscripts when I see them.
This is sizzle-hot marketable mystery-plotting.
I've always been a Columbo fan -- and before that Perry Mason. All the Agatha Christie classics have my admiration. Now I'm a total fan of Faye Kellerman's Decker & Lazarus series, though it's sort of Petering out (excuse the pun).
Murder in the Mikdash is top-drawer mystery. Amateur Detective Cozy Mystery doesn't come any better than this. The Mystery Plot is perfectly turned; the action-sequences are convincing; the pacing is exquisite.
But because of the Futuristic Urban Fantasy ingredient (real, solid, actual Biblical Prophecy totally realized right in front of your eyes) it can't be marketed under the Cozy Mystery brand (BTW I do love Cozy Mystery!!!).
The Romance and the Mystery are fully integrated, a flawless seamless whole rooted deep in the characters' unconscious minds.
The theme in this novel is suitably obscure, buried inside everything, and it drives the central core of every character, every scene, every locale. The whole novel hums with fully orchestrated theme just as described in these previous posts.
Maybe the theme in Murderer in the Mikdash could be stated: "The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same."
Or maybe, "Human Nature doesn't have to change;,society just has to catch up."
In other words: "Humans Are Essentially Good -- but we screw up sometimes."
Or, "It is possible to break the cycle of being doomed to repeat History, but it'll cost you."
But my favorite way to say it is, "Everything matters; just don't sweat the small stuff."
The envelope theme for a series based on this vision of the Future might be: "Human Civilization Doesn't Turn On A Dime, But Maybe on a Flaming Half-Shekel."