Terrorists descend on Arizona in search of a holy relic in an overly ambitious thriller that traverses its way through the centuries.
When swarthy men case her family’s house, attempt to set off a Pepsi-can bomb and try to kidnap her at gunpoint, Tucson teen Madeline Anthony-Pratt wonders why–but doesn’t notify her parents or the police. Could it have something to do with simultaneous Islamist uprisings in Iraq and Saudi Arabia? Or with her sister Brittany’s efforts to get her Muslim boyfriend released from Guantanamo Bay? Or, perhaps, with a mysterious pendant that has been in the family for generations, which–it transpires through much laborious exposition–contains a black stone frivolously chipped from Allah’s shrine in Mecca by Cleopatra herself? Yes, sort ofâ€¦but much less than readers have a right to expect after all the ominous buildup. Cargill (To Follow the Goddess, 1991, etc.) fills in centuries of the titular rock’s back story, replete with tedious details of the Arab assassins sent to retrieve it and the clued-in alarmists who vainly attempt to key in the authorities to the menace they pose. One of the book’s few bright spots is Cargill’s portrait of a bluff, rational Julius Caesar cheerfully tuning out his aide’s nagging about the black stone. In the end, though, the bloated, Byzantine black-stone conspiracy proves oddly irrelevant to the plot’s apocalyptic climax. Cargill’s depiction of the age-old Arab menace does, however, lead to an obtrusive argument against American withdrawal from Iraq: â€œMore than 80 percent of the American numskulls out there want to negotiate with the terrorists, bring the troops back home, and flee back to their jacuzzis and swimming pools in suburban New York and Los Angeles,” shrills one character. The pontificating is developed with briefs declaring congressional attempts to withhold war funding as unconstitutional. Thinly disguised caricatures of Hillary Clinton and Al Gore are ridiculed, while a John McCain-esque Arizona senator saves the day.
Sluggish pacing, inept contrivances and strident soap-boxing make this sink like a stone.