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The Last Secret of the Temple - Paul Sussman
on 13 January 2008
All in all this was a good novel. It was pacey, if it took a while to get going. Also it was very contemporary, being set in the Arab-Israeli conflict, with the backdrop of history: the fall of Jerusalem in AD70, medieval Crusades, Nazi death camps and the Nazi hierarchy's interest in esoterica.
The characterisation was OK, better than in some novels of this genre. At least they are given backgrounds and are not two-dimensional. The protagonist Khalifa was well depicted and a likeable, good guy. However, as the protagonist, I was surprised that he does not play more of a part in the story. Other characters such as Har-Zion, Layla and Ben-Roi play an equally important role. His Israeli colleague, Ben-Roi, I did not like and was someone who I just wanted to shake out of his slumber and depression. As mentioned in another review, Sussman adds a twist at the end concerning the female protagonist. I won't say what it is but, given what she had been through, it was unlikely and clumsily done.
The actual "secret" is rather obvious, from the opening chapters I could tell what is was. Nevertheless, its journey to its present location is recounted well and was a good sub-plot to the modern-day Middle East.
I felt that the novel was a tad too long at 694 pages. I think some of it should have been edited out and the novel could have been written in 500 pages. I also found the constant reference to smoking annoying. Every other character seemed to smoke! Another negative was the over use of expletives. I'm no prude and recognise that such things can add to a character's personality, but I think Sussman could have cut back on that a bit. The author also makes liberal use of native sayings, be it in Arabic, Hebrew etc. This could have been a problem for the reader but a glossary of terms can be found at the back of the novel. The glossary also includes information on terms, places and historical characters mentioned in the text, which adds to the accessibility of the novel.
All in all I enjoyed the book and would read other works by Sussman. Recommended.