Lionel Davidson is one of the most under-rated of recent British writers of popular fiction, probably because his work is so difficult to classify. While all his novels have elements of suspense and mystery, and often take place in exotic locations, they range in subject matter from the search for lost treasures in Israel and Tibet, a scientific mystery set in the depths of frozen Siberia, a serial killer loose in the art schools of London's Chelsea, a bumbling Englishman running for his life in Iron Curtain Czechoslovakia, and the possibility that the man behind the state of Israel invented a substitute for gasoline made from sweet potatoes.
A LONG WAY TO SHILOH is one of his most concentrated novels. The central character, priapic young scholar Caspar Laing, is engagingly funny in his joint pursuit of the solution to an ancient Biblical mystery and of the stern but attractive assistant he's assigned to drive him around the Negev Desert. Few writers can be instructive, comic and sexy while describing the intricacies of Semitic linguistic scholarship and some of its more eccentric inhabitants, but Davidson proves that, to the gifted writer, no subject is dull. He also casts an affectionately critical eye on Israeli society, giving a sharp, witty picture of this uniquely focused culture.
Davidson belongs with Eric Ambler among those writers of popular fiction who could evoke tension without losing their sense of humour. A LONG WAY TO SHILOH is one of the most gripping and amusing of all reads. A gem in hiding, it deserves to be better known.