The Last Testament by Sam Bourne

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The Last Testament by Sam Bourne

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Kerry King
Reviewed by Kerry King
Summary: A slow starter that goes from cool to hot in 80 pages. A puzzling enthralling, geo-political thriller from the author of The Righteous Men.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 576 Date: July 2007
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 978-0007203338

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Sam Bourne is actually Jonathan Freedland, an award winning journalist and broadcaster. This is a man who has spent two decades covering the Middle East conflict, chairing a three day dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians that went on to broker the 2003 Geneva Accords. So we're not talking about someone who skips the geo-political hot stuff of the day to read the funnies!

Maggie Costelloe, Washington's star peace negotiator, has been drafted in to moderate the latest round of Middle East peace talks. Such talks have been globally mooted to be the definitive make-or-break accord and so following a period of forced retirement, Maggie arrives in Jerusalem to cool boiling tensions over a spate of tit-for-tat killings that have caused a bitter stalemate between the parties.

Finding herself in an increasingly volatile situation with neither side willing to come to the table Maggie instead has to watch blame firing from all parties involved until ultimately she realises if she is ever going to get the leaders of the most explosive region on the planet to the table, she is going to have to do some digging around the subject of the murders. Puzzlingly, it becomes immediately apparent that the murders are in no way arbitrary. The victims are all either world-renowned archaeologists or equally well-respected historians, their area of specialisation being the Bible and Holy Land.

The plot thickens for Maggie when her life is threatened and she is told to keep her nose out, but the warning comes too late for she is already submerged in a mystery that dates back to the beginning of civilisation itself.

The author's experience in this often misinterpreted arena is apparent. He clearly knows his Isaacs from his Ishmaels (something that I confess to being ignorant of until I read this book and something that I also ashamedly confess to being too lazy to have bothered to find out about at any time prior!) and this fact makes the book all the more compelling a read. When I am as plainly ignorant of a subject, as I am in this instance, I like an author to know his apples and oranges because it gives me confidence in the tale. Also, I am sure you will agree that there is nothing more irksome than blaring geographical or factual inaccuracies. So I felt like I was in the hands of an expert throughout.

The fact that the story leaps from references to the ancient past to the chaotic lives and politics of the modern day with alacrity does not detract from the flow of the narrative since it is executed with aplomb. The story twitches about almost Guy Ritchie-esquely within a narrow frame of time and it is worth paying attention to the "time stamp" given at the chapter heading so that you can bear witness to the "cause and effect" element playing out in the tale, i.e. Item B happens at 5.31pm and in the next chapter we see that Item B happened because Item A happened at 4.48pm in another part of town. Really spellbinding stuff!

On the whole, I enjoyed the book very much. I have given it four stars, rather than five, for two reasons: the first is that it took an interminably long time to get going. It was not merely the fact that Harry Potter 7 was, and still is, sitting unread on my nightstand (although that was frustrating enough to make me put Harry in a drawer); largely it was because of the vital importance of scene-setting in this book. Whilst I acknowledge that fact, I feel the author laboured it a little and the result was that I got a bit fidgety. The second reason for The The Last Testament not getting top marks is that the ending was just so pedestrian, however correct and justified, I actually sighed with disappointment. I wanted there not to be an ending at all; no solution; no answer to the big question that hovers above everything in this story. I wonder if that was ever an option?

In any event, I can and do heartily recommend this book to you and I do that because I believe it's content and the user-friendliness of the subject matter as written by the author is something that every person should read and understand. It makes what is going on in that part of the world much more three dimensional. It brings an insight into the Middle East conflict into your house and if we are ever going to find a solution to the world's wars, then what better way to start than by understanding?

I read The Righteous Men last year and found it a rollercoaster of a read. Sam Bourne is a tremendously gifted writer and tells stories based around his innate knowledge with definite flair. If you are not one of the squillions who have already done so, you may like to try Dan Brown, starting with The Da Vinci Code which albeit a real page-turner, for my money Sam Bourne is a better story-teller. We have reviewed Digital Fortress, also by Dan Brown, for you here on Bookbag although I would agree with the Magda that it is not one of his finer efforts.

Finally, we would very much like to thank the guys and gals at Harper for sending us this book. We also have a review of Pantheon by Sam Bourne.

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