It’s hard to believe that Raymond Khoury’s debut
novel, THE LAST TEMPLAR, was released only a year ago. Primarily
known as a screenwriter for film and television, Khoury immediately
established himself as a successful thriller novelist. He further
secures his position with his sophomore effort, which may well be
the most ambitious fictional work of 2007.
THE SANCTUARY is broad in scope and bold in premise. Spanning
time from 1750 to the present, and the world from Italy to the
Middle East, the book concerns a quest for that most elusive of
treasures: the elixir of, if not immortality, then a greatly
increased lifespan. Chief among those engaged in the pursuit is
the hakeem, a medical genius whose brilliance is exceeded
only by the single-minded barbarism of his experiments. A legendary
text --- a mysterious, ancient volume bearing the image of the
Ouroboros, a dragon-like snake swallowing its own tail --- once
thought to be lost forever and rumored to contain the lost secret
of prolonged life suddenly surfaces.
The mere possibility of its authenticity sets off a violent chain
reaction of hot pursuit involving the hakeem and a number
of enigmatic individuals, including Evelyn Bishop, an archeologist
who finds herself at the center of the hunt and whose brief affair
with a mysterious stranger some three decades previously may have
indirectly set the current events in motion.
Each of the players has an agenda of some kind, but it quickly
becomes evident that the hakeem will stop at nothing to
achieve his goal. This includes kidnapping Bishop, with the result
that her daughter, Mia, is brought dramatically into the
proceedings along with two strangers, one of whom has an odd and
significant tie not only to Bishop but to the very secret that
everyone wishes to possess. The action is almost non-stop, and on
those rare occasions when things do slow down a bit, it is tacitly
understood that the respite will be temporary.
Khoury’s research here is incredibly thorough, so much so
that one can only marvel at his ability to keep the story on track,
given the multitude of ancillary stories that easily could have
been pursued by the historical issues raised. Perhaps one or more
of them will be the topic of another work --- I’m hoping for
something involving the Phoenicians --- but THE
SANCTUARY has enough adventure, excitement and speculation to
fill three books.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011