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A British super-heist in near-future Riyadh, Saudi Arabia--led by a landscape architect with tenuous motivation, a philosophical bent, and an often-witty narrating style. This oddly unsatisfying hero is Daniel Schofield--divorced, 36, cynical, in Riyadh to oversee his company's landscaping at the massive Saudi Arabian Financial Agency compound. Then, suddenly, bitter about the Saudis' failure to pay their landscaping bills (and generally sour about geopolitics), Schofield decides to risk his life masterminding a virtually impossible operation: the theft of the vast Saudi gold stockpile from underground vaults beneath the landscaping site. Schofield recruits some of the landscape crew for his project; he imports a wary safecracker from Britain; he blackmails his old school-chum Charles Gordon, a banker at SAFA, to help him with insider details. And he finds problematic allies in Israeli agents Zagloul and Leila: they're happy to help Schofield sabotage the Arab world's money-supply--especially since plans for a vast new Holy War have been announced; but they also insist that Schofield design his scheme so that it brings about the downfall of Sheikh Fuad Tarabzuli--a super-merchant/arms-dealer who seems to be working for Soviet goals in the Mideast. Thus, while slowly planning the heist, Schofield is also meeting with greedy, lecherous Tarabzuli--arranging for him to provide air-transport for the tons of gold. And, though the complicated, Topkapi-esque scheme itself (defusing alarm systems, burrowing in through a reservoir, distracting guards, etc.) goes fairly well, with only a few grisly casualties, Schofield will find himself in major danger from both the sadistic Tarabzuli and the ruthless Israelis. (New love Leila, however, ultimately proves more loyal to Schofield than to Israel, penetrating at last through the hero's cynical mask.) Fans of straightforward caper-thrillers will probably find Peel's debut novel too slow to go into action, too encrusted with subtle convolutions. But, notwithstanding the pretentious murkiness of some of Schofield's musings, sophisticated readers may enjoy this modest, offbeat blend of heist-technicalities, political maneuvering, and sardonic Mideast commentary.

Pub Date: April 6th, 1984
Publisher: Vanguard