Top positive review
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An old-fashioned adventure story, but with real depth
on 15 February 2013
I first read this book about 15 years ago, under its original title, "The Last Crusade", but lent it to a friend who never returned it. So I was really glad to find that it's now available again on Kindle. There are so many good things to say about it, I'm not sure where to begin. On a simple level it's just a great story, full of intrigue and betrayal, leading up to a proper "boy's own" climax - the cavalry charge at Huj. In terms of good, old-fashioned story telling, it reminded me of the best of C.S. Forester, or Bernard Cornwell's "Sharpe" books.
But there's deeper stuff going on here too. Underneath all the intrigue and the action there are political undercurrents - not only between the world powers who are fighting the war, but between local Zionists, Armenians, Turks and Arabs, who are all vying for control over Palestine. The characters are brilliantly observed, and almost all have ulterior motives for their actions - so there's perhaps a hint of Graham Greene thrown in here too.
Beneath this there is yet a further layer: most of the action takes place around Jerusalem - the centre of three great religions - and an atmosphere of religious mysticism bubbles up from time to time. So there are also echoes of EM Forster's "A Passage to India". One of my favourite characters was Magnus, a Swedish prophet whom, despite his ravings, I began to suspect was the only sane character here.
All of this is written in a beautifully crafted, often sardonic style, which makes you realise that the author is gently mocking the British as much as the Germans, the Turks as much as the Zionists, and the whole business of war and the absurd things it makes people do.
There are vignettes in this book that are both hilarious and depressing. It doesn't have the same claustrophic quality of Graham Greene, or the all-out, plot-driven rush of Bernard Cornwell. But it has elements of both, and weaves them together into a memorable and deeply satisfying book. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants an insight into the origins of the mess that is the Middle East today - but also anyone who just likes a good, old-fashioned story.