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 Four Trowels

THE HIDDEN OASIS

By: Paul Sussman    
Atlantic Monthly Press:  New York City
2009 (HC)

I have reviewed Paul Sussman’s two previous thrillers, The Lost Army of Cambyses and The Last Secret of the Temple, and found both of them to extremely engaging and full of excitement and intrigue.  But his third novel, The Lost Oasis, is simply head and shoulders above those two worthy predecessors!  It is wonderfully imaginative as it creates a plot and premise drawn from the mythology of ancient Egypt and the stark wastelands of the Sahara. 

Three narrative threads, separated in time by thousands of years, introduce this fast-paced adventure.  In 2153 BC, a party of thirty Egyptians, most drawn from the ranks of the high priestly order, conceal a precious secret in the legendary Hidden Oasis of the Western Desert—and then commit mass suicide to keep their efforts a secret forever.  For millennia thereafter, the rumors and mythology of the Hidden Oasis—sometimes known as Zerzura—persisted but consistently stymied those explorers who sought to verify its existence.   More than 4000 years later, in 1986, a clandestine flight carrying a deadly cargo, departs from Albania and crashes in a sandstorm in that same empty area of the Western Desert.   The third narrative thread brings the reader to the present day and introduces a mélange of characters, whose destinies are intertwined and will eventually lead them to the Hidden Oasis and its buried secrets. 

Among them are Flin Brodie, a British archaeologist who teaches at the American University in Cairo; he is obsessed with discovering the truth about the Hidden Oasis, which is located, he is certain, in the Glif Kebir region of the Western Desert that borders on Libya in the west and Sudan in the south.  There is Freya Hannen, world class rock climber, who is sadly journeying to Egypt to bury her older sister, Alex, desert explorer, who reportedly committed suicide in the Glif Kebir region rather than suffer the final painful stages of multiple sclerosis.  She meets Flin at her sister’s funeral and they soon find themselves caught up in a deadly game of cat and mouse that draws them ever closer to the hidden secrets of the Glif Kebir—both ancient and modern.   There is Molly Kiernan, who is an agent of the U.S. Agency for International Development, but who has a deep interest in the Glif Kebir region and has ties with Flin that go back to his early days as an intelligence operative for the British MI6.  There is also the darkly malevolent character of Romani Girgis, a mobster whose interests include all aspects of the Egyptian underworld, including the weapons trade. 

The action-filled narrative builds in an unrelenting fashion and it becomes evident that all of these characters have veiled obsessions that inexorably drive them to pry open the secrets of the Hidden Oasis and to exorcise the personal demons that haunt them. 

Paul Sussman has penned a fascinating thriller that brings together the myths of ancient Egypt with the murderous intrigues of the contemporary Middle East.  To add to the pleasure, he has created an ensemble of characters, which—whether good or evil—are anything but two dimensional.  Four trowels for this exciting novel—may there be many more yet to come!

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*MVAC Educational Programs are supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in these programs do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
*This project was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation.  Opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation.