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Stand down, Dan Brown
Last Secret of the Temple - Paul Sussman
Member Name: steerpyke
Last Secret of the Temple - Paul Sussman
Advantages: a relevant, intriging and well told story.
Disadvantages: a large investment of time required
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.
Summary: a politically concious, historically aware and beguiling tale