I was given a couple of Paul Sussman books a couple of years ago as part of a birthday present. From the look of the blurb at first it did not look like the kind of novel I would normally read. My main problem with so called historical novels is that when it comes to the historical inaccuracies in them you need more than both hands and feet to count them up on. Anyway I was off on holiday and it would involve a flight and trains so grabbed a couple of books and this was one of them.
In 70 A.D. the Holy Temple of Jerusalem is being besieged by the Roman army. Their aim is to take the treasures back to Rome - and kill everyone inside. The High Priest rescues one person, a boy who now carries a secret that he must guard and keep with his life...
The present day in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt a body is found in the ruins of the ancient city. What seems to be a simple open and shut case for Yusuf Khalifa sets the ball rolling on a mystery which is almost 2000 years old and getting this wrong could be a danger not only to him but to the whole of the Middle East. Can he put all the pieces together in time - especially as some of them appear to be missing....
Yusuf Khalifa - an Inspector with the Luxor police. The only thing that appears to be more important to him than his job is his family. Highly intelligent and does not always take the easiest route - much to the irritation of his boss. As he looks into the case of the dead body found in the Valley of the Kings alarm bells start ringing in his head about an old case especially when his boss tells him to leave it alone.
Layla al-Madani - A reporter with a Palestinian paper. She is seen as one of the leading pains in the bum by the Israeli authorities. She is able to get stories that no other reporter either has been able to or have the guts to get. A letter she has recently received has her puzzled, it would have the leading experts of the Sunday Times cryptic crossword puzzled but she can't resist the temptation to investigate it.
Arieh Ben-Roi - detective in the Israeli police whilst he gets the job done his methods of doing so could be questioned . A heavy drinker and is plagued by the memory of his fiancée who was killed just days before they were to be married. Not getting the best cases anymore and his only desire left is to make those who killed his beloved Galia pay.
What I thought of it:
The copy I have is the paper back 'half size' version (if that makes any sense) and has 694 pages to the novel excluding the glossary.
Whilst the first few pages give some historical background to the rest of the novel (from the siege of the temple to the present day) the rest of the story takes a while to get going. In fact it first appears to be three completely unrelated stories and the way the novel has been done it appears to jump from one to the other so you can lose track quite easily. For me this, despite the book not exactly being badly written, made it rather heavy going. Whilst the three seemingly unrelated stories to begin to tie together it takes almost half of the book for the ends of them to begin to cross each other. This jumping about and the slow start almost had me giving up before I made it to page 100 but the will to find out what the 'secret of the temple' was kept me going with it.
The book is written in the third person and has been well constructed but more importantly written by someone who appears to know the historical subjects the novel is loosely based on. The book has a glossary at the back of the novel which describes and translates some of the Hebrew and Arabic words used in the novel which, as I only speak English (with a bit of pigeon Italian), found very helpful.
The book, thankfully, isn't packed out with so many secondary characters that you don't know whether you are coming or going but as some only get mentioned every 100 pages or so and even then only in passing it can cause a bit of the age old problem of flicking back through the book to find out who the heck that person was again. However, most do add to the main plot of the novel in one way or another
The main plot and the sub plots do work well together but I feel one of the more minor sub plots which really just acted like an additional story within the main one could have been left out without taking anything away from the novel at all. I feel that at the end it was simply being used to provide an opportunity for the horror of all horrors - the sequel (Ok I know some sequels work but many don't). The book, when it finally does get going, does have a few very cleverly done twists in it. Some are fairly obvious, if you had concentrated on the book enough, whilst others sort of hit you like a 20 lb sledge hammer. It is really the last 150 pages or so where the suspense is built up but really after the major climax of all the problems the three characters have gone through the ending (which came another 20 or so pages after this) I felt was a bit of a let down.
The novel is well written but is far too slow to really get going and I found I had to be patient with it. Normally if a book hasn't really got me into it by page 100 it gets put down here I did keep going - mainly as it was the only book I hadn't read that I had with me. For the climax of the 'secret of the temple' it was worth reading but I feel the same effect could have been gained with half of the 'fluff' such as the big parts of the two police inspectors family life and Layla's childhood memories being cut out. Whilst some of it is important a lot of it just seemed to be padding. Although it wasn't badly written it isn't a book I would read again. Despite the fact I rarely read a book more than once (photographic memory for book plots) this novel wouldn't even make the short list of ones I would consider to re-read.
for the way it is written and the ability to use good twists I would normally give it 4/5. However, as it took far too long, in my opinion to get going I have taken one mark off (aren't I a stinker?)
Like I always do, lets again start first with how I came across this. So when I had gone over to the US, my aunt took me to a book store and told me to choose a book under 15$. No, I'm not a kid but still, she didn't know what to get me so gave me the choice. I went through a lot of books, and then found this book. I debated for a while whether or not to get this book. Then finally, I made the choice of this book.
When I first started reading it, I felt it to be boring. But then, I forced myself to read further on. And then, the suspense part started. I couldn't keep the book down for a second until it was finished. Its truly great.
Lets go into the story details in depth. Basically the story is about how a man is trying to render apart the fragile middle east with an ancient artifact that was thought to be lost centuries ago. It shows how three people - 2 men and one woman - from very different backgrounds join together in a wild pursuit to prevent a terrible disaster from happening.
The story is very well written, and the author has used very fine english to impress you. The story has a blend of historical facts, with fiction added so very realistically that it seems that you're watching a movie, with the scenes floating in front of your eyes. It may sound dramatic, but its so true. Sussman gives a great description of everything in a very neat and sophisticated way. The suspense when starts to catch up, is bound to make you addicted to it.
The only thing I disliked in the book is that it had some adult content. Adult content as in the sense of verbal language. That gives it a disadvantage because then, it would have been suitable for kids, kids into serious reading.
A great man once asked, War what is it good for? People will jump to the quick conclusion that the answer is nothing (absolutely nothing huh). However, without war economies would falter (see USA) and inventions would flounder (see Microwave Ovens). The fact is that in todays society war is a way of making money. One conflict that has been ongoing since WW2 is between Israel and Palestine. These two peoples are not officially at war, yet their dealings with one another have left 1000s dead. The facts are that the Middle East is a powder keg and any author looking to set a book in the region must be sensitive to the politics. Therefore, if you were going to write a book based here would you make a deep political thriller? Not Paul Sussman; he thought it would be a great place to set a completely inappropriate Da Vinci Code rip off.
The Last Secret of the Temple follows three separate storylines as they eventually make there way towards one another. Firstly, there is the tale of Yusuf Khalifa an Egyptian police officer who is investigating the death of an old man at a dig site and how this is connected to a 15 year old murder. Secondly there is Arieh Ben-Roi an Israeli police officer who is battling his inner demons after his fiancée is blown up by a suicide bomber. Ben-Roi must work with Khalifa on the Jewish part of the case. Finally we have Layla al-Madani, a Palestinian journalist who has just received a mysterious letter that points towards an artefact that is 2000 years old and could bring about the downfall of the Israeli State. How are these three cases connected and can these natural enemies work together to discover the secret that has remained hidden for centuries?
There are a lot of things with this book that leave a bad taste in your mouth which is a shame as some of the writing is perfectly good airport fiction. However, standard prose does not make up for the multitude of sins that Sussman puts the reader through. My biggest criticism is the duel tone of the book. For the first half, the book is a pretty harrowing account of life in the Middle East. Each of the characters in the book has lost a loved one or has been horribly disfigured. Essentially, Sussman is trying to say how deep the hatred between Jewish and Palestinian people is. This is perfectly acceptable, and although I found some parts a bit too vivid it was a valid choice. However, to insert into this a dim witted and light story of arcane treasures is unseemly. The ending of the book in particular is poor as the many horrible sights of earlier chapters are brushed under the carpet in favour of an Indiana Jones like ending with supernatural connotations totally inappropriate.
The failings of this book are not just down to flaws in the ambience, the characters also do not ring true. This is a real shame as the first third of the book suggests that the characters have real promise. Rather than the three main protagonists being heroes they are all deeply flawed with many skeletons in their closets that would effect how they react to a give situation. However, all this good character development is undone when they all become buddies. How could people with such deep seated hatreds possibly become friends overnight? Sussman has once again taken a very heated situation and made light of it.
As well as being naïve towards its subject matter The Last Secret of the Temple is a prime example of a poor book that has only been published to ride on the coattails of The Da Vinci Code. Like Code this book is a good 200-300 pages too long. Rather than writing something that would interest us large parts of the book are full of, quite frankly, dull history. As a historian I I do not take this lightly, written well History can be the best story itself. I have read several Code like books in the past couple of years and they have all been universally poor. Overlong, dull, pompous and naïve all these words describe books such as this, Codex and The Rule of Four. The only book that has bucked this trend is The Double Eagle.
If this book has been 300 pages long instead of 700 I could probably have recommended it to people who like this genre. However, it is not and the vast amounts of padding, poor characterisation, supernatural nonsense and poorly judged handling of the Middle East makes this one a book to avoid. What makes it all the more frustrating is that with a good editor this book could have been ok. Sussman decided to take the risk of setting a book in a volatile area, unfortunately for both him and the reader this risk did not come off and the only secret that is uncovered is that this book is overly heavy handed and not very good.
Author: Paul Sussman
Price: amazon uk - £4.38
play.com - £5.49
It was, I expect, inevitable that the Da Vinci Code would turn into a point of reference for a certain type of book, rightly or wrongly. In the same way that when a band becomes big, every other record label wants to have their version of that act, publishing houses are also looking for their version of Dan Browns hit novel. It could even be that the lasting legacy of that controversial book was not the questions it made us ask but the doors it opened for other, better, books to get the recognition they deserve and to get into the high street markets so much more easily. The blurb on the cover of Paul Sussmans hit book states "the intelligent readers answer to The Da Vinci Code" a statement that is more about a lazy, easy reference point than actual fact. One of the things that this book does have in common with the aforementioned book is that, again I read the book out of sequence. Like many readers of Dan Browns work, I read the Da Vinci Code before Angels and Demons; chronologically incorrect as they both feature the same lead character. But like those works The Last Secret of the Temple does stand alone from his previous novel, The Lost Army of Cambyses even though they do centre on the same character. Even though this is also a story based around a historical thread, religious imagery and detective work, there is actually very little similarity between this and Browns subject matter and the books I have just mentioned. And where Browns works court controversy with ease, Sussmans work is more subtle in its rhetoric but a thousand times more relevant as well as thought provoking in a practical sense.
Three stories are set before you at the opening of the book. In Luxor, Egypt we have Khalifa, policeman, a dedicated family man and a lover of history, antiquities and heritage of his homeland. Upon investigating a supposedly routine murder case he comes to the conclusion that this is not only connected with an older murder case that he worked on many years before, but that they may have actually convicted the wrong person of that first crime. In Jerusalem an embittered and angry Israeli detective also becomes involved in the case, against his wishes and better judgement. However despite his dislike of his Arab counterpart in Luxor, he realises that there is a lot more to this case than meets the eye and wants to get to the bottom of it. Palestinian journalist, Layla, an anti Semitic documenter on the politics of the region has received a mysterious communiqué alluding to powerful weapon that could aide the cause she supports. These three separate story lines, all fixed firmly in the present day build slowly taking a long time to link but by the time that they do you find that you have travelled back to ancient Jerusalem, through the crusades and the Cathar heretics periods, through the Holocaust and back to the savage events of present day Israel.
Although this is a big book at nearly 700 pages, there is no filler or material here that seems to be mere padding. The slow nature of the story telling never seems pedestrian and in fact helps build the suspense to breaking point so that when the revelations and action kick in its like a wonderful release, as if you have been holding your breath and are finally given leave to breath. What seems most appealing about the story though is the humanity of the characters, more specifically the flaws in that humanity. Khalifa, a man that would be happier to just keep his head down and lead a quiet life, but driven to set the record straight and do the right thing. Ben-Roi, his Israeli opposite number a man full of anger and hate, driven by revenge for his murdered bride to be, but ultimately capable of seeing the bigger picture. Layla is the more confusing character, especially as the story reaches its conclusion, a woman driven to do right by the father she loved or at least do wrong by those responsible for his death.
What puts this book on a higher pedestal than most of its contemporaries is its relevance, not in its main story but in its setting. The central characters, their attitudes and allegiances act as a microcosm for the larger political picture and the power plays and intrigue that the story weaves in and out of are important social comment and political reporting in its own right. It highlights the complexities of the situation and even in its last breath leaves you hanging with the unresolved thought that there may not actually be a solution to the situation. What is also refreshing is that for a change the view is not a western one and we understand the turmoil's of the middle east from those that actual have to walk those streets and not from a news at ten correspondent being paid to cover a single story. Sussman manages to write not only an intelligent and suspenseful thriller but gives you something to think about long after the main characters are all safely back at home and the final page has been turned.
When the body of an aged hotel owner is discovered amidst the ruins of a rarely-visited archaeological site by the Nile, Inspector Yusuf Khalifa of the Luxor police expects it to be an open-and-shut case. But, the more he finds out about the dead man, the uneasier he becomes. It reminds him of an earlier death - the brutal murder of an Israeli woman for which he always suspected they'd convicted the wrong man. What begins as a routine investigation rapidly turns out to be anything but...Forced into an uneasy alliance with a hard-drinking Jerusalem detective and a campaigning Palestinian journalist, Khalifa enters a murky, murderous world of greed, duplicity, intrigue and revenge as he goes in search of an elusive 2000 year-old mystery with the power, if it fell into the wrong hands, to plunge the Middle East into all-out war...Spanning the millennia - from ancient Jerusalem and the Crusades to the Holocaust and the modern-day no-man's landof the Gaza strip, from Cathar heretics to coded medieval manuscripts and long-lost Nazi treasure - The Last Secret of the Temple is a thrilling, rollercoaster adventure.