Review

The Last Secret of the Temple

by Paul Sussman

The
opening sentence of THE LAST SECRET OF THE TEMPLE sets the mood for
what is to come in this engrossing sophomore effort from Paul
Sussman, author of THE LOST ARMY OF CAMBYSES. There is an image ---
horrific, barbaric and unforgettable in its brutality --- that
reminds readers that the troubles in the Middle East (Jerusalem in
particular) have existed for two millennia (actually, since the
beginning of time, if one gives credence to the events chronicled
in the Book of Genesis). Sussman’s novel, however, is
concerned with modern times, in a tale that is part thriller, part
mystery and all-encompassing.


As plot-driven as THE LAST SECRET OF THE TEMPLE is, it is the
primary and secondary characters presented therein --- one of whom
does not appear until well into the final third of the book ---
that ultimately make it a winner. Almost all of the protagonists
are deeply flawed in some way or another. Yusef Khalifa is an
Egyptian police detective who is doggedly dedicated to his
profession and to his family --- in that order, to his quiet guilt
--- but who is haunted by a decision he made early in his career
during the investigation of the murder of a woman who was a
concentration camp survivor. Arieh Ben-Roi is an Israeli cop who
lost his fiancée to a terrorist attack and whose program of
alcoholic self-medication is driving his career, and his life, off
the rails. Meanwhile, Palestinian journalist Layla al-Madani
provides a regular and reliable literary litany of the offenses of
the Israeli government against the Palestinian people.


These three characters are slowly and inexorably brought together
when Khalifa begins his investigation into the death of Piet
Jansen, the owner of an Egyptian hotel. The cause of Jansen’s
death is determined quickly enough; Khalifa, however, slowly begins
to tie Jansen to the murder of Hannah Schlegel, an Israeli woman
whose brutal killing constituted Khalifa’s first
investigation. While the case was listed as solved, Khalifa always
felt as if there was a rush to judgment; the more he investigates
Jansen’s life, the more Khalifa feels that it was Jansen who
in fact murdered Schlegel. Reopening the investigation, his trail
leads him to Israel, where he is paired --- first via long-distance
and then in person --- with the reluctant and increasingly hostile
Ben-Roi, who wants nothing to do with his Egyptian counterpart. But
Ben-Roi uncovers some interesting facts concerning Schlegel almost
in spite of himself.


Meanwhile, Al-Madani receives a mysterious correspondence seeking
her assistance in making contact with a deadly Palestinian
terrorist, so that “invaluable information” in the
struggle against Israel and its people effectively can be brought
to bear. The letter includes an ancient coded message, one that
leads al-Madani on a globe-hopping quest to unravel one of
history’s greatest mysteries. As the paths and quests of
these protagonists slowly converge, another party shadows them,
hoping they will lead him to a secret that will upset and destroy
the fragile status quo of the Israeli and Palestinian
territories.


While THE LAST SECRET OF THE TEMPLE is an engrossing thriller, it
also contains an intriguing and tantalizing mystery that keeps the
reader guessing until almost the very end. By virtue of its
socio-geographic backdrop, to some extent the novel is also a
political work dealing with a topic that by its very nature
generates strong emotions and opinions. Sussman, though no doubt
possessed of his own strong feelings regarding those complex
issues, has made what appears to be an effort to give a balanced
presentation of the views of the parties involved. Will it make
everyone, or even anyone, happy? Probably not. Regardless of
one’s opinions, however, this is a compelling read that
should satisfy the vociferous appetites of mystery and thriller
readers alike.


   









Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 30, 2010

The Last Secret of the Temple
by Paul Sussman

  • Publication Date: September 1, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 555 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • ISBN-10: 0802143938
  • ISBN-13: 9780802143938