Reading Guides

The Genesis Secret
A Novel
Tom Knox
Book: Paperback
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Journalist Rob Luttrell has just recovered, physically and emotionally, after surviving a brutal suicide bombing in Iraq. So when his London-based newspaper editor sends him on assignment to an archeological dig in a remote part of Kurdistan, he assumes it’s an easy story to help him get back into the game of reporting. Unfortunately, his reportage of the oldest known site of human civilization puts him and his loved ones in more danger than his assignments in war-ravaged Iraq ever have.

Soon after arriving at Gobekli Tepe, the lead archeologist and Rob’s contact in Kurdistan, Franz Breitner, meets with an untimely and suspicious death. This sets off a chain of events that leads Rob, and one of the archeologists at the dig – a beautiful French woman named Christine – to uncover a conspiracy theory so large its implications reach beyond the desert landscape of Kurdistan and across the entire globe.

At the same time, British Detective Chief Inspector Forrester is travelling across the English and Irish countryside in pursuit of a gang of occultists bent on murder – and not just any kind of murder: human sacrifice. With each new murder the violence toward the victims escalates, and Forrester becomes aware that these men, this gang, are motivated by more than bloodlust and cruelty: they’re searching for something.

Eventually it becomes clear that the murders in England and Ireland and the mysterious site of Gobekli Tepe are connected, but there’s a hefty price to pay for discovering that connection: Rob’s daughter, Lizzie, is kidnapped by the occultists and held in lieu of a mysterious Black Book, a ransom that must be paid before Lizzie becomes their next human sacrifice.

Based on historical events and places, and fraught with modern-day mystery and suspense, The Genesis Secret combines literature, history, politics to create a breathtakingly good read that will leave you questioning everything you thought you knew about the origins of mankind.


Tom Knox is the pseudonym for the English journalist and writer Sean Thomas.


Q. This novel revolves around an incredibly complex theory about the evolution of mankind. What inspired you to write a mystery novel about this particular topic? How difficult was it to come up with the particular details of the theory?

I hope the theory is not TOO complex. Indeed, in its essence, I think it is fairly simple: the basic and revelatory idea of the book is that the great Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – with their common birthplace in Kurdistan, and their common themes of sacrifice, guilt and redemption, and their common stories of a lost Eden, are a reaction to the traumas of the Neolithic revolution: the epochal and sometimes tragic movement from hunter-gathering to agriculture.

This movement took place, firstly, in Kurdistan - that's where we first began to farm, that's where we have up the Edenic lifestyle of hunter-gathering - literally plucking fruit from the trees.

That’s the key insight, and the key theory. Everything else is entertainment! I hope.

I was inspired to write the book by greed and good luck. The greed bit is because I was previously a writer of “literary” fiction, and journalism, but a few years ago I was about to go bankrupt and my agent therefore suggested I write a thriller: i.e. something more commercial.

So I agreed. But what started out as a moneymaking exercise turned into quite a passion. I found that I really enjoyed old-fashioned story telling, and I also had a great story to tell..

The good luck I had was my theme and source: Gobekli Tepe. I visited this amazing real-life 12,000 year old temple five years ago. When the archaeologist there described the site, in all sincerity, as a “temple in Eden” I knew I had the beginnings of something interesting.

Q. Similarly, how much research did this novel entail? What obstacles or difficulties did you encounter in your research? Did you do research before, during, or after the drafting of the novel?

I did a lot of research for the book: my ambition was to travel to every single important location and see it for myself. I succeeded in all but two places – I never made it to the Isle of Man (I ran out of time) I never made it to Lalesh in Iraq (too dangerous) but all the other locations, from Dublin to England to northern France to Tel Aviv to Istanbul and Kurdistan – I visited them all.

I didn’t encounter many difficulties; in fact I loved this bit of the job. Research is fun if it involves travel, and it is hugely beneficial for an author to actually see somewhere. You really do have to go somewhere to get a “feel” for a place, to spot those crucial and effective details of a landscape or a location. Or I do anyway.

Q. What do you like about the differences between writing fiction and writing nonfiction, and journalism pieces in particular? What about your journalism background helped you in your creation of this novel?

My career in journalism helped in many ways. It taught me the virtues of hitting a deadline: with commercial fiction you have to hit those deadlines: publishers invest a lot of money in these books and you can’t faff around.

Also journalism taught me to write quickly but well (I hope). The bulk of the book was written in just two months. A pretty frenzied two months, I admit. I believe the book benefited from being written in a state of high excitement, it gave it verve and vivacity. We have since sold the book in 23 countries so the sweat seems to have paid off.

Journalism also taught me how to weave facts into a story, and how to shape a story around facts. That’s very important if you write these kind of thrillers with a real-life mystery at the kernel – and these thrillers are increasingly popular.

Q. Have you considered writing a book-length work of nonfiction? What other genres are you interested in exploring?

I have already written a memoir! It’s called Millions of Women are Waiting to Meet You and it is about my entire lovelife. It was published around the world (including the USA) under my real name Sean Thomas. It was quite successful – more successful than my “literary fiction" anyway. But I should note that it is very candid and very naughty and completely and utterly different to The Genesis Secret.

One day I would like to write a second memoir – I have lots more to tell, my life has been fairly crazy. Also I would like to write one single funny movie. Just one.

Apart from that I am dedicated to creating the perfect thriller. I’ll never achieve perfection, of course, but I’m going to give it a damn good go.

Q. What can we expect to see from you in bookstores soon?

The Marks of Cain, my second thriller, comes out in hardback in America in May, published by Viking Penguin. It is also based on a genuine mystery: a strange tribe of pariahs, in medieval France and Spain, called the Cagots. No one knows who they were or why they were ostracized but they were kept in their own ghettoes and they had their own doors in churches and some people thought they were cannibals or psychotics. The truly amazing thing is that they still exist, or at least their descendants do – I interviewed the “last living Cagot” for a British newspaper four years ago.

Their eerie fate is entwined with the deeper mystery of… the Marks of Cain. Watch out for the book in your local store this summer.


  1. For two thirds of the novel, the narrative moves back and forth between the point of view of Rob Luttrell and the perspective of Detective Chief Inspector Forrester. Discuss this way of telling a story and if you think it was effective. For instance, how did switching between the two points of view contribute to the suspense of the novel?
  2. Not only are the events of the narrative conveyed through Rob and DCI Forrester’s points of view, but their characters parallel one another in several ways. Compare and contrast how these two men act as fathers and professionals, and discuss the ways in which the author deliberately contrasts them with the fathers of previous generations, from the men of the Irish Hellfire Club to the male hominids of Gobekli Tepe.
  3. Similarly, consider DIC Forrester’s inner torment over his daughter’s murder, and how it shapes his actions and his perspective through the book. Discuss, too, the way his work on the case proves cathartic, and how, by the end of the novel, it appears that he might be beginning to heal.
  4. The torture scenarios in the book become more extreme, and more graphic, as the novel progresses. Discuss this progression and how the tone of the novel changes once the reader becomes an audience to the sacrifices as they are happening. Compare the torture of Hugo De Savary with that of Isobel Previn – which is more terrifying? (Additionally, discuss whether you were surprised when Rob discovered Christine alive in Ireland – were you prepared for that plot twist?)
  5. Discuss the progression of Rob’s relationship with Christine as it develops slowly over the course of the book. What makes their relationship interesting and keeps it from being overly sentimental? Compare their relationship with that of Rob’s relationship with his ex-wife, Sally, and discuss how even his relationship with Sally grows over the course of the novel.
  6. Similarly, discuss Christine’s instant bond with Sally, and Sally’s approval of Christine as a partner for Rob. What kind of comment does their relationship make about women in general? Do you think men would be able to act in a similar way towards a romantic rival/ex?
  7. Discuss the Turkish police officer Kiribali – did you, like Rob, suspect him of being more sinister than he appeared? How startled were you to see him at the book’s climax, when he shot off Cloncurry’s hand and arm? What other characters in the book surprised you in this way?
  8. What did you think of Jamie Cloncurry? Was his character well-developed? What made him a particularly frightening antagonist? Discuss his email to Rob and his speeches over the web cam, and evaluate the way they demonstrated his evil and psychotic nature.
  9. Also, compare the relationship of DCI Forrester and Boijer to that of other fictional detective partnerships – most notably that of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. What about their dynamic did you find engaging and likable? In what ways did they make a good team?
  10. In the novel, the characters discuss the various symbols of different religions and how those symbols hold significance for the human race. Similarly, the author uses symbolism at various points in the novel to either foreshadow events or to emphasize meaning in the story: For instance, James Cloncurry has the same initials as Jesus Christ, and eventually he reveals to Rob that he considers himself a kind of perverse savior of mankind. Find similar instances in the book and discuss their significance.
  11. Consider Rob’s explanation of the Genesis Secret to Kiribali at the end of the novel. Did the entire explanation sound feasible to you, and like a good conspiracy theory? What about the Genesis Secret and its implications did you find most interesting and intriguing? Also, discuss Rob’s revelation that he knew he was related to Jamie Cloncurry.
  12. Was the end of the novel – Rob and Christine’s wedding – satisfactory and realistic? Did it tie things up too neatly, or were there any parts of the novel that you felt were still left to be explained?
  13. Compare this novel with mysteries based on historical fact and/or conspiracy theories. What sets the book apart from the others?