I confess to buying this book mainly because so much of it was located in the Gilf Kebir, an area of Egypt which I know and is very close to my heart. But I also enjoy a good thriller.
The book starts off very well. The rather gory story of the transport of an unidentified object into the Western Desert by the priests of Old Kingdom Egypt is followed by a switch to 1986 when a plane carrying an also unidentified cargo crashes in the same area. We then move to 2009 with the arrival of in Egypt of a female rock climber (Freya) to attend the funeral of her desert explorer sister who apparently killed herself. But it soon becomes clear that suicide may not have been the real cause of death. A bag discovered with a dead body by Bedouin near the Gilf Kebir area is delivered to Freya, in lieu of her sister, and this is the trigger for a series of violent events. The connections between these events and the subsequent meetings and action are labyrinthine. There are lots of car chases, threatened tortures, dramatic escapes and personal secrets revealed along the way. There's even an impromptu archaeological excavation at Abydos (don't read this bit if you're an archaeologist - your blood will run cold)
It is a good romp and the storyline mixes political wranglings from the time of the Iraq-Iran war, underworld arms and other unsavory dealings and CIA interests with a good dose of Egyptology and archaeology. The characters include our heroine the strong minded but guilt-ridden (and beautiful) rock climber Freya, our Egyptologist hero Flin (damaged but trying to make amends for his past) and a collection of goodies and baddies from intelligence agencies, the Bedouin and the underworld.
The story travels from Dakhleh to Cairo, Abydos and back to Dakhleh before heading out into the Western Desert and the Gilf Kebir. It was great to read the descriptions of the less salubrious areas of Cairo.
The characterization was okay. I didn't think that the relationships between the individuals aren't particularly well crafted and Sussman is rather better at action than tender and romantic moments (and the tender moments really were somewhat redundant). But I did like the twins, a great pair of characters who are both ghastly and revoltingly endearing at the same time, and the badies were wonderfully bad.
The real downside for me was the climax. We all know that the hidden oasis is going to be found, so I'm not giving much away there. The threads all come together here and it is a shame that it declined into a combination of the types of mythical fantasy that worked so well in Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Mummy. Those were both comedy-adventures, so the fantasy works well. But this is described as a thriller, albeit with the intriguing prospect of a lost oasis to be discovered. The descent into curses-made-real and magical stones was really a disappointment to me. If you don't mind your thrillers coloured with a dose of ancient Egyptian magic and sci-fi type "effects" then it might not bother you but it really spoiled the ending for me.
This was the first of Sussman's books I have read and I shall certainly give his The Lost Army of Cambyses a go.