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by Robert Masello
Berkley, November 2006
464 pages
ISBN: 0425212807

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A group of American soldiers in an armored vehicle enter the grounds of a palace near Mosul, Iraq. Their leader, Captain Greer, leads them around the main house to a library building around the back, where guarded by a metal peacock, he finds a hidden door from which he takes a large metal box. As they are leaving, they are attacked by what appears to be a black cloud. Greer, one other man, and the driver escape.

Meanwhile, Carter Cox, head of paleontology at the Page Museum in Los Angeles, is working in one of the pits at the La Brea Tar Pits, while his wife, Beth, works at the Getty, curating their medieval manuscripts.

Greer is also back in LA with a badly damaged leg. He takes drugs, both legal and not, and, with one of the men who was on the expedition to al-Kalli's palace, burglarizes houses.

Mohammed Al-Kalli is also in LA. He has a beautiful illuminated and illustrated Bestiary which he wants translated. He would like Beth to do the translation and the experts at the Getty to do the restoration. The Bestiary has been in al-Kalli's family for many centuries. It supposedly contains pictures and descriptions of extinct animals. Since Beth is an expert on medieval manuscripts, she is the perfect person to translate this one.

Carter is not left out of this either. He finds a body in the tar pits and the Native Americans want the body to be reburied in a hallowed site and not to be studied. Al-Kalli also wants Carter to do something for him. And Greer gets mixed up with a bunch of neo-Nazis who have their own agenda.

I found this book a bit more compelling than I had thought I would. The characters are strange, including the Cox baby who never seems to sleep, and I have always been a sucker for the tar pits. The mystery of the illuminated Bestiary is another fascinating story. The plot overpowers most of the people, as thrillers frequently do, but it does move to a satisfactorily exciting conclusion. And why does that baby never sleep?

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi, November 2006

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