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by Paul Sussman
Thomas Dunne Books / St. Martin's Press, February 2003
384 pages
ISBN: 0312301537

In 523 B.C. in the Western Desert of Egypt an army belonging to Cambyses of Persia, sent to conquer the Ammonians, perished in a sandstorm. Fifty thousand men disappeared forever. Today archaeologists would give a great deal to find the exact location of the vanished army as would dealers in Egyptian antiquities.

In 2001 a corpse discovered in Luxor, a dead archaeologist in Saqqara, and a dead antiquities dealer in Cairo. Inspector Khalifa of Luxor was charged with discovering the murder of the first man. Tara Mullray, the archaeologistıs daughter, had come to Egypt to see him and was shocked to find that he had died. Even more shocking was meeting her former lover, Daniel Lecage, who had abandoned her to pursue his archaeological dreams in Egypt.

Nationalism runs high in modern Egypt and terrorist groups abound. One of the most infamous terrorists is Sayf al-Thaır (Sword of Vengeance). His people hope to drive the foreigners and current rulers out and bring the necessities of life to the fellaheen, the Egyptian peasants. All of these strands come together in this exciting and riveting story that takes the reader to Cairo, Luxor, and deep into the Western Desert.

The sense of place is excellent. The reader can get a real taste of the teeming city of Cairo, the old sections where Westerners seldom venture, the vendors, the camels, the dust, the cry to prayer, the thronging city streets where peasant crowds merchant and West rubs shoulders with East. Equally fascinating is Luxor. . . the temples, the Valley of the Kings, the tombs and peasant villages close by. And the desert is a dangerous place to visit where oasis gives way to row after row of dunes, shifting sand, and quicksand that can trap you before you know it. All of these settings come alive for the reader in this book.

The characters, as is often true in suspense novels, are not especially three dimensional, although certainly we get to know the three principal characters quite well. They donıt always act in ways consistent with their character development however. I find it hard to believe that a woman would fall into bed so fast with a man who had hurt her as badly as Daniel hurt Tara. For an educated woman, she is extremely foolish about him. Daniel, in turn, is an ardent archaeologist but would he really crush out a cheroot on the floor of a newly discovered tomb? Inspector Khalif is the most realistic of the three and, as we learn his back story, we see a believable and convincing person.

The plot is, to a certain degree, predictable and the ³big surprise² near the conclusion was no surprise to me. However the relationship between all these events and how the story was going to play out kept me intrigued and involved until the very end. The conclusion is effected by a deus ex machina to a certain extent, but it could have happened and so is acceptable.

As an aside, there is much in this story about the roots of terrorism and why terrorists grow. This does not justify terrorism and is not tossed in to titillate but is an integral part of the story. We in this country may well learn some things about the perilous world in which we now live.

Reviewed by Sally A. Fellows, March 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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