Three young people search for a priceless artifact that a gang of thieves also pursues in this YA adventure.
As this story opens, a seemingly valueless painting is sold to the elderly proprietor of a Jerusalem antiquities shop. Soon afterward, his shop is ransacked and he disappears. Meanwhile, Montanans Maylee Tayten and her brother, Smith, are visiting their Uncle Arnold in Jerusalem for reasons that seem to have something to do with their father’s walking out on the family. Maylee feels alone and as if no one understands her, so she certainly isn’t expecting to connect with Israeli teenager Rafi, whom she meets when he peeks over a neighbor’s wall. When he announces he’d like to take her on an adventure, she decides she’s up for it. She, Smith, and Rafi decide to slip into the Garden of Gethsemane—where, it turns out, several bad guys are trying to bury a body. Deciding to investigate, the three consult Rafi’s network of sources and learn of a missing and priceless Dead Sea Scroll, referred to as “the Queen.” Their efforts lead them—and others—to Qumran, the caves where the scrolls were first found. Maylee, Smith, Rafi, and their allies face dangerous enemies and uncertain success, but they’ve got one another. The story continues in Dangers in the Desert (2017). In this first installment of a series, Wilson (Going Bananas, 2017, etc.) deftly taps into teenage restlessness (sneaking out, ditching babysitters, dealing with romantic attraction, concocting cunning plans). Since some of these excitements could be life-threatening, it’s good that Uncle Arnold is there to enforce boundaries. But the tale’s problems include vagueness about the siblings’ backgrounds, such as their ages. In addition, Smith doesn’t seem necessary except as a chaperone. The interplay between Rafi and Maylee is also troubling: he makes her red-faced with embarrassment and enjoys her distress, and she remains flattered. Furthermore, the book’s Christian emphasis (Uncle Arnold is a “Messianic Jew”; a rabbi consults a Christian Bible) may bother some readers. While the story’s ending sets things up for Volume 2, it leaves many things unresolved and is therefore less satisfying.
Despite some missteps, this tale about a missing Dead Sea Scroll delivers a solid series opener.