The story behind the story of Place of Skulls

What if Christ had already returned as he promised? What if he had stepped down in Mexico instead of Israel or Pascagoula?

An idea for a novel usually comes along when you least expect it and almost always when you’re not looking for it. That’s what happened with Place of Skulls, my fourth Ambrose Lincoln book that was released last Saturday.

I ran across a story that sounded so much like the story of Christ, but it had been told about another, passed down from generation to generation, written by the high priests for the learned to know, explained in hushed, reverent tones.

This man who was the son of a God had come among a lost and bewildered people to save them from the forces of evil. It was nothing new. I had heard it all before. The New Testament, I believe it was, chapter and verse, almost word for word.

He was born of a virgin, begotten by a ball of light, was different from those who listened to him, who followed him, who whispered softly among themselves that he was their savior, maybe their King, surely their conscience.

Same old story. Nothing had been lost in the translation. Miracles followed where he journeyed. The lame walked. The dead lived again. The blind could see once. Great crowds followed his every footstep. The people worshipped him. They prayed to him.

It was much as they did in Matthew. Or was it Luke? Maybe Mark or John.

He preached of love. He preached of peace. He touched the hearts of some. So many others wanted him dead. I knew the beginning. I had read it myself.

I would not be stunned by the ending. He was hunted down by the ones who feared him, by the ones who persecuted him. And the scribes wrote of a man stretched on a cross with three women praying beside him. Their words described a man who had risen from the dead and left them, promising that he would return some day, gather up his followers, exact his revenge on the unbelievers, and restore his Kingdom.

I would have quit reading. I had indeed heard it all before.

But the tales and the parables and the manuscripts had been left behind by the Aztecs and Mayans in Mexico, and they talked of a man who would be God, a white, blue-eyed man who had walked among them fifteen hundred years after the Bible recorded the crucifixion of Christ on a hill at Golgotha, known as the place of skulls. He taught them about medicine, mathematics, and astronomy. He died violently, rose from death, and promised to come back someday and gather up his people.

The people of Mexico did not call him Christ. They called him Quetzalcoatl. And still they wait for his return.

A stone carving in Mexico depicting Quetzalcoatl.

I had not been looking for Quetzalcoatl when I found him. Yet, for years, his story would not leave me alone. Time and again, I thought about the magic question that haunts all writers: “What if?” What if Christ had already returned as he promised? What if he had stepped down in Mexico instead of Israel or Pascagoula?

What would all of the fundamentalist preachers preach about come Sunday morning if their sermons on the Second Coming had been snatched out from beneath them, if the Good Lord had indeed come back and forgot to tell them about it?

Thus began the plot for Place of Skulls.

I had no intention of writing a book suffocated with theology, and I didn’t. I had no intention of writing a book about the pros and cons and squabbles among the religious, and I didn’t.

I simply turned some complex characters loose – a Texas oilman with ties to the President, a DEA agent who, he says, finds undeniable and irrefutable proof that Christ had indeed returned again, a rogue government agent who is plotting to stop a drug lord who are sending his own brand of smugglers across the border in Texas. The cocaine is laced with poison. The operation is financed by German money. Nazi operatives believe the deadly drug will kill more Americans than a bomb. A massive war rages in Europe. A quiet one has begun in Mexico. The quiet one threatens to bring the war to the homeland of America.

The task falls on his shoulders of Ambrose Lincoln, a man who has no memory of his past, to sort it all out, to find the unholy ones who murdered the DEA agent and recover the proof, whatever it is, that might forever change the face and teachings of Christianity. It won’t hurt any if he happens to do away with the Mexican drug lord who is sending the poisoned cocaine across the Rio Grande and into Texas.

Is Lincoln searching for an artifact? Some religious relic? An ancient manuscript? And, even if he finds it, what will it prove? Who will it convince? What mystery will it solve?

Novels are written by those who sit down at their keyboards with a notebook and a mind full of questions. Whether a novel is good or not depends on how well or how poorly the writer answers those questions.

Sure, there may be a murder or two. Sure, there may be a love affair or two and probably a betrayal. Sure, there may be a little violence, maybe a lot of it. Sure, the plot thickens and has more twists than turns and more turns than dead ends. Sure, the hero wins. Even if the hero dies, he or she wins.

But it’s all for naught if the final period is placed at the end of the final sentence at the end of the final paragraph, and the questions remain as baffling and perplexing as they were when the novelist first raised them.

The Alpha of the book is easy for the writer. The characters pretty much take care of the plot as they wander in and out of story. You just follow along and are generally be more amazed than the reader at what they do or say.

Just when a writer thinks he or she is bordering on writer’s block, some stranger wanders into town and kills somebody or falls in love with somebody, which forces somebody to kill somebody or fall out of love with somebody. And occasionally, the character you like the most gets washed away in the bloodshed.

In reality, it’s all about the Omega, the ending. And the author never knows for sure whether he’s won or lost until somebody else reads it. By then, it’s often too late.

So what did I do about Quetzalcoatl?

I found the final answer Ambrose Lincoln needed in a cemetery, known as a place of skulls.

Please click HERE to purchase Place of Skulls.

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