This is the second novel in the series by Paul Sussman featuring Detective Inspector Khalifa - the first being 'The Lost Army of Cambyses'. I purchased the two books together and I'm glad I did or else I would have missed out on this great gem! I really didn't enjoy the first book all that much finding the majority of characters so dull I couldn't bring myself to care when their lives were hanging in the balance. The one character that was interesting however was Khalifa who appears again in the second book as the Detective with a moral conscience. It is not necessary to read the books in chronological order as there are only a few passing references to the first book and The Last Secret of the Temple is by far the more superior of the two.
I won't go into what the book is actually about in this review as I think there is enough said about the story in the synopsis and in some of the reviews here but what I will say is that I've not read a book of this type that was this good since I read the Dan Brown's books a few years back. It is very easy to get into and the story does keep you hooked until the end. The book looks at religious conflict, racial prejudices and hatred, morality and power and it deals with these themes effectively without becoming too political or too sentimental. I can't wait for Paul Sussman's next novel and this one is definitely highly recommended!
on 5 September 2006
I fell willing into the publisher's 'if you loved the Da Vinci Code you'll love this' trap and I'm so glad I did. No disrespect to Dan Brown who wrote a terrific single plot thriller which I thoroughly enjoyed but this is so much more. A complex series of interwoven ideas and characters from ancient Jewish and Christian history to the complexities and moral ambiguity of the current situation in the Middel East it's a heart-thumping, page-turning thriller, with wonderfully imagined,multi dimensional central characters. Well written- literary without being pretentious, good storytelling without dumbing down. If you read nothing else this year you have to read this.
The Last Secret of the Temple, Paul Sussman's follow-up to Lost Army of the Cambyses, is another thriller set in the contemporary Middle East and, like its predecessor, deals with the historical, political and religious turmoil that has gripped the region since the earliest times.
Once again the lead role is taken by Inspector Yusuf Khalifa of the Egyptian police force, who, except for his nationality and Islamic faith, is in all other ways an everyman cop and a fine detective. He is an engaging and human presence and forms the moral centre to the story. He also initiates events with his investigation into the death of a elderly European man at an achaeological site near Luxor. From this apparently minor event spins a tale that takes in Egypt, Israel, France and Germany and reveals a secret that dates back to pre-Christian times.
Caught up in it all are two new central characters, Israeli detective Arieh Ben Roi and English/Palestinian Journalist Layla al-Madani. Working both individually and together they uncover a conspiracy that dates back three thousand years but threatens to have a profound & tragic impact on the present. In doing so they and Kalifa come into contact with an extensive and colourful cast of supporting characters on all sides.
As with The Lost Army, Sussman uses the story he has crafted to focus on contemporary Middle Eastern politics; with particular attention to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. That he manages to do so and remain comparatively bipartisan is to his credit. Other books dealing with the same subject in a similar fashion often end up coming down on one side or the other, giving a skewed and distorted view of the situation there. Like all authors tackling such a complex and thorny subject however, the best Sussman can do is to scratch the surface and 'Last Secret' is able to give little real insight into an age old conflict.
Still, it does make for a sound basis for a thriller and 'Last Secret' is, for the most part, a solid, reasonably intelligent effort in that department. The plot is suitably tortuous, with numerous conspiracies large and small rising to the surface as the three leads investigate a series of apparently unconnected events. Most of these make sense and, if you're able to suspend your disbelief, even the key plot point and 'big reveal' is plausible in a Indiana Jones sort of fashion. There are enough twists to keep you guessing and at the end it all hangs together without too many glaring holes.
Kalifa is, once again, an engaging and human lead character and he anchors the book with his normalcy and level headed attitude to events. Ben-Roi & al-Madani are harder to warm too as both are more extreme characters; a necessary device as they are intended to illustrate both sides in a conflict, but neither are totally unsympathetic and you do find yourself caring for their fates at the denoument.
If there are weak points with the book they are easily indentifiable. For a start the bad guys are thin. Fanatics to a man, they are a good illustration of how unchecked nationalism and hard-line faith, no matter which religion you are, can twist morality and make men commit terrible acts against other people. Like many similarly extremist fictional characters however, there is little emotional depth to them, despite Sussman's best efforts to provide it.
The second fault is the book's length. Whilst the book starts with the same story being approached from three different directions, all of which has to meet and be tied up, it takes a long time to do it and as a result the pacing and the senses of tension and excitement sag a little. This is rescued by a tighter final act, but some more judicious editing might not have gone amiss.
The final issue I have with Last Secret is the secret itself. Without revealing it here, it came across as the weakest element of the book. That is not a criticism of the idea itself, but merely of its execution. Whilst the rest of book clings firmly to a sense of tangible realism, the central maguffin round which all events revolve is a by comparison a flight of fancy and fantasy. I found that this sat uneasily with the rest of the book and felt out of place. This may just be a result of my particular attitude to religous iconography and organised religion in general, but in a book that has strived for an air of authenticity for me it didn't quite fit.
Despite this however, I enjoyed The Last Secret of the Temple. With its setting and the character of Khalifa it is an entertaining and fresh spin on an old formula.
on 23 August 2006
It's not often you get both in the classic 'airport novel' genre, they're usually pretty brainless. This one certainly isn't. Set in the middle east and featuring a mixture of israeli & palestinian characters, i think it does a good job of illustrating the horrors inflicted in both directions without being partisan one way or the other. And the author doesn't let politics interfere with a damn good story, but the way it's interwoven gives pause for thought.
The adventure part itself is well done, not dry and definitely structured to keep you reading (I read it in a day). It has the usual cathar/templar stuff but for a change not really a Christian view point. The main character (egyptian detective) is really well written and easy to imagine as a real person, likewise his counterpart is all too human. The weakest character is the woman who is a bit bland and stereotypical in comparison.
The only other thing i found a bit disappointing and hence 4 not 5 stars was the twist which i thought wasn't needed and wasn't convincing with the character it involved
However if you like the Da vinci code you will definitely like this, and i am looking forward to reading the first book by the same author.
on 4 October 2005
Having read Lost Army of Cambyses I was looking forward to revisiting Eqypt with Inspector Khalifa and I was ready for another good thriller with a bit of ancient history thrown in. I wasn't disappointed and the extra flavour of the arab/israeli conflict made the plot that much more interesting.
For my part I think the author got the balance between fictitious plot and modern day politics spot on. The book never seemed too 'heavy' and I even shed a little tear at the end. The characters are believable, the plot keeps you guessing and I felt I had learned a little about the conflicts by the end of the book.
This guy knows how to tell a good story.
on 15 March 2013
Paul Sussman had a great talent for story telling. He also researched meticulously and called on what was obviously a width breadth of knowledge. His use of English was exemplary and he structured this book perfectly, despite its complex plot. The relationship between the two detectives, from such disparate backgrounds, added a stimulating dimension. The subject of the conflict between the two cultures of Islam and Judaism was sharply depicted without sentimentality or bitterness and served well to inform the reader. The plot was at once contemporary but intriguing. A vastly entertaining story - Paul Sussman's death is a great loss.
on 27 July 2005
I bought The Last Secret of the Temple because I very much enjoyed Mr. Sussman's first novel. However, in my opinion this new novel is even better. In particular, I enjoyed the fact that, although the story switches between the three protagonists, to give you get a fast-paced feeling each sequence is not so long as to make you lose interest in the other storylines. And you have to love the way each storyline moves forward and interacts with the others to solve the great puzzle. Although the novel is at heart a mystery novel I very much think that Mr. Sussman is selling himself short when in an interview he declined to describe this novel as literature. It is a mystery novel which leaves you with a lot more than just having been entertained.
on 23 January 2008
In Egypt's Valley of the Kings a body is found, kicking off a series of events and discoveries for chain-smoking Egyptian detective Yusuf Khalifa. As he delves deeper into the dead man's background, Khalifa realises that there is more to the case than at first meets the eye. The story veers from the invasion of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD to the suicide bombings and inter-racial hatred of present-day Israel, in search of an ancient artefact that could send the Middle East up in flames.
Paul Sussman's second book is hard to get into. The fragmentation of the first part, as Sussman sets the scene from the viewpoints of several protagonists, almost lets the book down before it's really gotten off the starting blocks. But stick with it. From the moment the various characters meet and piece together the mystery bit by bit, the pace starts to hot up, leading to a triple crisis at the end and a superb cliffhanger in the final moments.
The publishers have used a quote from the Independent newspaper's reviewer for the cover of the paperback edition of the book : "The intelligent reader's answer to The Da Vinci Code". I guess this is referring to the depth of the background geographical, political, emotional and psychological scenery that goes along with the "explosive" plot, a depth clearly missing from Dan Brown's massive bestseller.
Or perhaps it simply means that all is not as it seems, and therein lie a number of explosions not caused by concealed explosives belts or underground arsenals.
on 14 January 2013
Love these books by Sussman,sadly no longer with us,a great loss to the book world.
Have a love affair with Egypt,so slightly biased,but the archeological content is excellent and storyline exciting.
Sussman has a knack for dealing with and explaining the problems in the middle east in his writing ,
without bias and with compassion.
Do not hesitate to purchase these books.