THE LAST TESTAMENT - Sam Bourne
The blurb for THE LAST TESTAMENT reads along the lines of "The Biggest Challenger to Dan Brown's Crown" and "A brilliant new high-concept religious conspiracy theory thriller", which might put some readers off, or at the very least set you up with some pre-conceived conceptions about the book. Ignore all of that and you'll be getting a fast paced, believable thriller which sets itself within a current day conflict in a very realistic manner.
In the dying days of the regime in Iraq, the Baghdad Museum of Antiquities is looted. A young boy takes an ancient clay tablet, hidden away in a forgotten vault.
At a rally for the signing of an historical peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Israeli security forces shoot dead a Jewish man, pushing his way through the crowd towards the Israeli Prime Minister. Instead of a gun, the man they thought was an assassin held a blood-stained note, addressed to his old friend the Prime Minister.
The peace negotiations falter as a series of tit for tat killings start up in both the Palestinian and Jewish territories. Washington takes the rather unusual step of calling in once star negotiator Maggie Costello, despite the fact that her last involvement in official negotiation ended in semi-disgrace. Costello arrives in Jerusalem and is instantly plunged into a mystery rooted in the last unsolved riddle of the Bible, with extremists on both sides not afraid to kill and menace to push the negotiations in the direction that they want.
THE LAST TESTAMENT is a thriller with a certain level of suspension of disbelief required from the start. Early on the reader is really wondering why on earth Maggie would be called back to work as a negotiator - her personal life and her previous entanglements in other negotiations would seem to make her a bit of a liability! On the other hand, when she arrives in Jerusalem and basically heads off out of the negotiation arena, on her own private quest to solve a riddle, you're really wondering what on earth is going on for a while. But, ultimately, if the test of a good thriller is whether or not you're more than happy to let some of the niggling inconsistencies roll whilst the story drags you along, then THE LAST TESTAMENT delivers in spades.
Sure there's a premise at the base of THE LAST TESTAMENT that has the potential to cause religious debate and maybe even controversy, making it another potential entrant in the "stirring up religious debate" category of thrillers that have been doing the rounds recently. Whether or not that's a category of book that suits you will be very dependent on each individual reader.
Maggie's not a bad character - she's a bit flawed, a bit insecure, a bit useless when it comes to sorting out her own life - but she knows it and she's not self-pitying about it. The other main character, Uri - son of the murdered suspected assassin is a bit ethereal in the book - there's a little of his background, enough to flesh him out a bit, but not enough to ever really let the reader inside his head too far and that's a bit tantalising. There are some other secondary characters that are interesting, some that are perhaps a little too predictable, but they fit within the general persona of the novel and the location it is set in.
Where THE LAST TESTAMENT appealed was in the realistic feel of the location of the story, and the way that the events moved rapidly. There are some twists and turns at the end, some of which were predictable and some were not. Even the more predictable elements weren't bland though, there were some nice gotcha moments that gave them some spark and interest.
Maggie Costello is a "closer," an expert brought into negotiations when all other options have failed. Now in Jerusalem, she mediates peace talks between Israel and Palestine, which have broken down after two high-profile deaths. Right-wing Zionist Shimon Guttman was gunned down during a supposed attempt to assassinate the Israeli prime minister. "This will change everything," Guttman had cryptically warned the prime minister before he was killed. Palestinian Ahmed Nour, a respected archaeologist, has also been killed on suspicions of being a collaborator. When Maggie discovers that the two men were colleagues, she is plunged into a mystery rooted in an unsolved riddle of the Bible. It all leads back to an ancient clay tablet looted from Baghdad's Museum of Antiquities and a secret that could end a war-or spark a new one.