Egyptologists, gangsters and spies race across the desert in search of an ancient oasis and the treasure concealed therein.
Professional rock climber Freya and her sister Alex, an explorer working in Egypt, hadn’t spoken in a long time, though they were extremely close as children. So when Freya gets a call informing her that Alex has died due to an injection of morphine, allegedly self-administered despite the explorer’s lifelong terror of needles, she sets out on an emotionally trying trip to attend the funeral. While Freya is staying at her sister’s house, a mysterious Bedouin emerges from the desert with a backpack he asks her to give to Alex, not knowing that she is dead. Soon thereafter, Freya returns to the house to find it being ransacked by vicious thugs; when they discover her lurking outside, a chase ensues. Fearing for her life, Freya flees to Cairo and the protection of Dr. Flin Brodie, an Egyptologist friend of Alex whom she met at the funeral. Flin and Freya almost immediately find themselves pursued by a local crime lord and a shady CIA operative with unknown motives as they rush to find an ancient desert oasis that seems somehow connected with Alex's death. Sussman (The Last Secret of the Temple, 2007, etc.), himself a sometime field archaeologist, gets off to a slow start but eventually settles into a tense groove, occasionally leavened by flashes of classic screwball humor. Although the British author gets some details wrong (Yanks hardly ever say “bloody” or “arse” and always know what a Hardees is), for the most part his American characters feel real. But the narrative too often bogs down in an excess of detail, and in the novel’s final quarter twist after unwelcome twist slows the pace to a painful crawl.
Above-average middle doesn’t quite compensate for a slow start and painfully bloated conclusion.