Deutermann’s latest (Nightwalkers, 2009, etc.) is a strong thriller that mixes archaeology, history and geopolitics.
In A.D. 73, a few desperate Jews in a mountaintop holdout are about to be overrun by the Roman army that has laid siege. They prefer suicide to surrender. The last man, Judah Sicarius, is selected to make sure all his compatriots are dead, down to the last woman and child, and then he is to kill himself. Two millennia later, the American David Hall receives reluctant permission from authorities to explore parts of Masada, the mountain that in real life has become a revered historical site in Israel. But they don’t fully trust him to leave the place undisturbed, so they assign archaeologist Dr. Judith Ressner to chaperone him. (Will the reader be surprised to learn that she’s beautiful?) Hall masquerades as an enthusiastic amateur, but he has a secret agenda that leads him to break rules and violate people’s trust. Even so, he acts without malice and is a likable character. Key to the story are natural cisterns inside the mountain that hold the accumulated rainwater of thousands of years. What is Hall’s true interest? And why do authorities even care what he finds as long as he doesn’t ruin any artifacts? Meanwhile, the widow Ressner provides an enjoyable subplot that threatens to turn romantic as she grapples with problems of her own. The perils in this novel come from an unexpected direction, and even once they are revealed there is one big secret left. Deutermann’s descriptions of Masada, its cisterns and the Dead Sea are well-done indeed. In particular, Deutermann skillfully maintains tension right to the end. Unlike some thrillers that keep the reader’s adrenaline going with increasing body counts and steamy sexual encounters, this one just tells a terrific story with a satisfying payoff.