A murder mystery set in an ancient Israel distempered by political conflict.
Shemuel ben Yahayye, a scribe in his advanced years, has been found murdered, discovered by, among others, one of his students, Yehuda. The murder itself would not normally be considered unusual—he was found in an area known to be dangerous—but nomadic bandits would surely have taken his valuables. Both aggrieved and suspicious, Yehuda takes it upon himself to investigate Shemuel’s death, with assistance from his young bodyguard, Ioannis Vivis. Yehuda remembers a letter he recently received from Shemuel, only notable for the strange message it contained inside: “Learn what eye has not seen and what ear has not heard.” Shemuel also inserted the same message into an old manuscript he asked Yehuda to track down. Partly on the basis of a mystical vision, Yehuda comes to believe that Shemuel was cryptically pointing toward the existence of treasure buried beneath a temple, treasure that could be used to fund a revolution against Roman occupation of their lands. Also, the more Yehuda discovers, the more he comes to believe that Shemuel was much more than a religious personage or scholar; he may also have been a member of an underground rebellion intent on throwing off the yoke of political oppression. The author of many books, Chisti (The Sufi Book of Life, 2005, etc.) is a religious scholar whose erudition is evidenced on every page. He paints a vivid picture of a Jerusalem rife with political and cultural discord, struggling to maintain its historical identity under the boot of tyranny. The consequences of that internal conflict are deftly personified by half Roman, half Israelite Ioannis, who has also suffered greatly at the hands of the Romans, relegated to slavery as punishment for his father’s political allegiances. The mystery itself is gripping enough—unfurling slowly, tantalizingly—but the history provided as a backdrop to the fictional narrative is mesmerizingly real.
An artfully rendered amalgam of history and fictional inventiveness.