The Mys­tery of the Mil­ton Manuscript

Bar­ry M Libin
  • Review
By – May 22, 2014

Mys­tery, may­hem, and mur­der are all set in motion in The Mys­tery of the Mil­ton Man­u­script. Par­adise Lost, John Milton’s renowned epic poem, recounts the sto­ry of Adam and Eve’s expul­sion from the Gar­den of Eden. The poem seeks to answer how one jus­ti­fies the ways of God’s work to man. The fic­tion­al con­tro­ver­sial Mil­ton Man­u­script, writ­ten to explain the mean­ing of his poem, is sur­round­ed by death, hor­ror, and intrigue. 

Kei­th Jes­sup, a Rhodes Schol­ar and Ph.D. can­di­date at Oxford, finds him­self caught up in a reli­gious con­spir­a­cy when his beloved friend and men­tor is mur­dered before he can deliv­er a lec­ture on Milton’s inter­pre­ta­tion of Par­adise Lost. More schol­ars involved with the Mil­ton Man­u­script are also heinous­ly killed and facial mark­ings and stig­ma­ta appear on the dead bod­ies. Jes­sup takes up their cru­sade. He attempts to solve their mur­ders, find the orig­i­nal Mil­ton Man­u­script, and under­stand the true mean­ing behind Par­adise Lost.

Keith’s quest takes him to the great libraries of Oxford, Cam­bridge, Sheffield, and New York. He is involved in for­eign intrigue in Zurich, Hong Kong, the New York art scene, and Har­vard. Rob­beries, mys­te­ri­ous phone calls, death threats, chase scenes, dis­guis­es, sniper attacks, and art forg­eries round out the movie script type action. Jessup’s world is pop­u­lat­ed by art experts and deal­ers, hired killers, police, foren­sic detec­tives, doc­tors, rab­bis, and fel­low schol­ars as well as the req­ui­site roman­tic interest. 

Kei­th must find an answer to the Mil­ton Man­u­script mys­tery before he is to deliv­er the esteemed Tanz­er Lec­ture at Har­vard. A count­down cal­en­dar lec­ture date at the begin­ning of each chap­ter effec­tive­ly adds to the sus­pense. The action is pre­sent­ed in short, fast-paced chap­ters, rem­i­nis­cent of The Da Vin­ci Code genre, that keeps the read­er engrossed. 

If one is unfa­mil­iar with Par­adise Lost, do not fear! Lib­in packs his nov­el with a bevy of infor­ma­tion, expla­na­tions, mini lec­tures, syn­opses, schol­ar­ly debates, and actu­al stan­zas that will prac­ti­cal­ly induct the read­er into the Inter­na­tion­al Mil­ton Soci­ety. While deliv­er­ing this edu­ca­tion, Lib­in also pro­vides a dossier on Mil­ton, the man, and his times. There is plenti­ful his­tor­i­cal back­ground infor­ma­tion on the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry Eng­lish polit­i­cal and reli­gious tur­moil Mil­ton found him­self caught up in. We learn that Mil­ton was an inde­pen­dent thinker who was will­ing to chal­lenge author­i­ty and fear­less in search­ing for intel­lec­tu­al truth and extolling per­son­al liberties. 

The sto­ry explores the impor­tance of Para­dise Lost to Chris­ten­dom, but also presents inter­est­ing aspects of the poem that account for Milton’s knowl­edge and under­stand­ing of Mosa­ic Law and Hebra­ic texts. 

Although the many char­ac­ters are not often ful­ly devel­oped and some plot inci­dents and nar­ra­tive turns seem con­trived, this book deliv­ers a sus­pense­ful, enjoy­able, and intel­lectually stim­u­lat­ing read.

Relat­ed content:

Reni­ta Last is a mem­ber of the Nas­sau Region of Hadassah’s Exec­u­tive Board. She has coor­di­nat­ed the Film Forum Series for the Region and served as Pro­gram­ming and Health Coor­di­na­tors and as a mem­ber of the Advo­ca­cy Committee.

She has vol­un­teered as a docent at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty teach­ing the all- impor­tant lessons of the Holo­caust and tol­er­ance. A retired teacher of the Gift­ed and Tal­ent­ed, she loves par­tic­i­pat­ing in book clubs and writ­ing projects.

Discussion Questions