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by Sam Bourne
Harper, July 2007
576 pages
6.99 GBP
ISBN: 0007203330

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Given that Sam Bourne is the nom-de-plume of Jonathan Freedland, a veteran of the Middle East conflict and award-winning journalist, one has every right to expect top-quality, well-informed prose in this book. One would not be disappointed.

The book opens with the looting of the Baghdad National Museum of Antiquities. A boy, Salam, is disappointed to discover that the steel box he has liberated from a makeshift safe contains not jewels or money, but a simple clay tablet.

The action moves to Israel some years later, where, as seems a constant state of affairs, talks aimed at promoting peace between Israel and Palestine are ongoing. At a talk given by the Prime Minister, Professor Shimon Guttman attempts to give the PM a note but security agents interpret Guttman's reaching into his pocket as a prelude to bringing out a weapon and the elderly man is shot dead.

Maggie Connolly is retired from being a mediator on the world stage. Now she attempts to promote understanding between warring couples. She lives with a bossy boyfriend, seemingly content, but when a functionary of the US government approaches her with a request to resume her old duties, but in Tel Aviv, she accepts.

Maggie teams up with Guttman's son, Uri, after Rachel Guttman, his mother, is also assassinated although the killing is made to look like suicide. Very soon, the clay tablet and the inscription thereon, begin to take on a great deal of importance.

I suppose it is difficult for people in certain sectors of society to come to grips with the notion that other folk can take their religion extremely seriously, to the extent of going to war for their beliefs. Certainly the Arab/Israeli conflict is a case in point. The author has done a very good job in portraying people from both sides, not to mention the general situation prevailing in Israel. I would find fault with it only in the way the time frame jumps around, which can confuse.

I felt the characterisation, as well as the portrayal of political conditions in the region, were well done. Maggie and Uri come across as being credible humans. One can only hope that the politicians of the tale aren't realistic reflections of reality, but no doubt that is a vain hope. I was particularly appalled when the American apparatchiks disclose the reason for Maggie's secondment to their forces but, unfortunately, it sounds all too possible.

The book has been likened to Dan Brown's THE DA VINCI CODE but I feel that does Bourne a disservice. THE LAST TESTAMENT seems to me to be a far more believable work.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, October 2007

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