Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Last Testament by Sam Bourne Book Review

Mediating divorces instead of world-threatening squabbles between countries, Maggie Costello misses her former career and lives in a holding pattern, stuck between a boring job and an unsatisfying relationship with a control freak boyfriend. Her stint with the U.S. government ended after she made a grievous mistake that cost lives.

But the government needs Maggie’s expertise on a new crisis, and when a U.S. agent seeks her help, she complies, much to her boyfriend’s chagrin. In Sam Bourne’s Middle Eastern thriller, The Last Testament, the conflict between Israel and Palestine, an ancient clay tablet looted by a boy from a museum in Baghdad, and all types of shady assassins, terrorists and would-be assassins combine to engage the reader on a fast-paced journey.

The coveted clay tablet holds a revelation destined to change the course of Middle Eastern relations forever. Archeologist Shimon Guttman is murdered just before he gives a letter to the Israeli prime minister about the tablet’s meaning. The incident damages the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and Maggie returns to the world of international relations and detective work. Guttman’s death sends Maggie — and his son Uri — on a desperate quest to find the killer(s) and decipher the true meaning of the tablet’s ancient language. A lot of wrong turns down dark alleys, cars driving off cliffs, and cyber-intrigue follows; Maggie spends time guessing passwords and decoding Second Life characters to reveal the identity and plans of the perpetrators.

The Last Testament is a breezy beach read. I finished the 436-page book in one afternoon. Each cliffhanger and revelation makes you curious to discover the “who” and the “why,” and that keeps you turning pages.

Sam Bourne is the pseudonym of British journalist Jonathan Freedland, who has reported on the Middle East for 20 years. His first-hand knowledge of the conflict certainly colors this book, as he humanizes its characters from an ill-fated Arab greengrocer to Uri, Maggie, and the perpetrators who chase them. There’s even an occasional mention of the everyday horrors and tortures of life in the war zone. A scene involving a car trailing Maggie is especially wrenching.

If you like topical, political thrillers, The Last Testament won’t disappoint. It’s tightly written, though only cursory info is given on main characters Maggie and Uri. Bourne’s first thriller, 2006’s The Righteous Men, had a more detailed narrative about Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah that some critics found preposterous. The Last Testament's storyline is easier to swallow, and its slicker prose style makes it Bourne's most accessible novel to date.

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