The search for a hidden treasure that will be either a blessing or a curse for the state of Israel reopens wounds from the Holocaust and threatens to worsen the state of Arab-Israeli relations, if such a thing is possible.
This latest entry in the blast from the mysterious biblical past sweepstakes begins with the Roman destruction of the Jewish Temple in AD 70 and the last minute spiriting away of the Temple’s greatest but mysterious and unrevealed treasure. After a side trip to the Austrian Alps as the Reich is collapsing, where SS troopers are hiding a Large Heavy Box with Unrevealed Contents in a remote salt mine (could there be a connection with the Temple Treasure?), Sussman (The Lost Army of Cambyses, 2003) sets the reader down in today’s wretched Middle East for what seem to be unrelated stories in Jerusalem and Cairo, plot lines that will converge and lead—yes—to the Treasure. In Egypt, Inspector Yusuf Khalifa, an honest, hardworking detective with a strong background in archaeology who is nearly the only likable character to be introduced, takes on the case of apparently murdered Dutchman Piet Jansen. Khalifa quickly learns that Jansen was not murdered but was quite possibly the culprit 15 years earlier in Khalifa’s first case as a policeman. Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, attractive but ruthless Palestinian reporter Layla al-Madani has received an anonymous letter containing a sheet of medieval code that promises to put her in touch with al-Mulatham, a renegade Palestinian firebrand. While Layla follows the code to Cambridge and Languedoc (the tragic heretical Cathars pop up briefly), heartbroken Israeli police detective Arieh Ben-Roi (a suicide bomber showed up at his wedding) nurses his rage against Palestinians, chugs vodka and follows his gut until he gets the phone call from Egypt that will start tying all the plot lines together.
Clunky prose swaddles a frantic but unexceptional plot.