THE LOST ARMY OF CAMBYSES
By: Paul Sussman
Thomas Dunne Books, New York
Paul Sussmanís first novel, The Lost Army of Cambyses,
is simply a terrific read! It has all the elements of a Grade A
thriller a la Ludlum, Jon Land, etc., including a tough yet vulnerable
heroine, a dashing hero (an archaeologist, of course), a haunted yet
savvy policeman, not one but two really malevolent bad guys, a search
for treasure, chase scenes, and exotic locales. What more could one
want for leisure-time reading?
The lost army referred to in the novelís title is a
briefly stated reference in Herodotus that recounts the misadventures of
some 5,000 Persian soldiers sent into Egypt by the mad despot Cambyses, son
of Cyrus the Great, in 523 BC. According to Herodotus, a great sand storm
buried the 5,000 and no trace was ever found of them again.
The contemporary story begins with the brutal murders
of an antiquities dealer in Cairo and a suspected tomb raider in Luxor;
these murders are followed closely by the death, apparently by natural
causes, of a British archaeologist in Saqqara. The convoluted plot that
ties these and other subsequent deaths together is then told from the
perspectives of the novelís two protagonists, Inspector Yusuf Khalife of the
Luxor police and Tara Mullray, the daughter of the deceased British
archaeologist in Saqqara. Tara is joined in her search for the truth of her
fatherís death by her former lover and intrepid archaeologist, Daniel Lacage.
The separate trails followed by Khalifa and Tara begin to converge and point
to a shadowy bin Laden-like Islamist terror master named Sayf al-Thaír and
rumors of a fabulous treasure hidden in the Theban hills.
Like many novels involving archaeologists in exotic
settings, Lost Army is derivative of that best-loved
archaeologist/adventurer, Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Similarities include the former lovers re-uniting in search of buried
treasure, Danielís fear of snakes (especially a particularly nasty
Black-necked Cobra), and the inclusion of an outlaw archaeologist (although
Lost Armyís Dravic is thuggish whereas Raiderís Bellocq was urbane). But
these similarities are by no means distracting and Sussman writes with
passion and verve as the main characters, both good and bad, race to the
denouement in the Egyptian desert. While the reader may have anticipated
the literal fight to the death in the closing pages of the novel, this
reader was wonderfully surprised by the ending, which was most certainly not
derivative of Indiana Jones!
This is a four-trowel read, perfect for a cold winter
night as the reader follows the hero and heroine over the burning sands of
the Egyptian desert.
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