Sunday, January 29, 2012

1093. The Sanctuary

The Sanctuary

Raymond Khoury was born in Beirut and studied Architecture. These things alone endear him to my heart, because he not only came from a difficult part of the world, but he also studied one of the sacred sciences with the intent to go back and rebuilt the once great city of Beirut. That may not have worked out as he planned, but at least he did design and built a number of novels, including this one. And for a bonus, he gets to use his knowledge of Beirut as a main character in this story line. This is the first novel of Khoury's that I have read, and whether it is a good starting point or not for this author, I do not know, because I am given to understand that "The Last Templar" was a much better story. But I have not read that book, nor am I reviewing it here. I can only judge Mr. Khoury based on this work.

By telling you some of the plot points of this book, I don't think I would be giving away the store so bear with me.  I, personally, have always enjoyed, stories involving immortality, including "The Eight" and a book from my past, "The Boat of A Million Years". The other thing that hints at this is the symbol on the cover, the Ouroboros, the serpent eating its own tail. The Ouroboros means a lot of different things, and has had many uses in the past, but one of them does bring us back to the quest for immortality. A hint of this is whispered at the beginning of the book when during the inquisition, a priest is entrusted with a secret from a man who falls prey to the inquisitors. This priest goes on a search across the continents and across the centuries for the missing pages of a book. But so do his pursuers who have realized what he has in his possession.

Meanwhile, in the 21st Century, Archaeology Professor Evelyn Bishop is kidnapped shortly after an Iraqi man contacts her about selling her some manuscripts. Her interest in this is simply as an archaeologist. It is right after the invasion and fall of Baghdad, and the Iraqi Museum of Antiquities has been raided. Many pieces are hitting the black marker and Evelyn is trying to ensure that these pieces somehow get returned to their rightful home. Evelyn's daughter is in town (Beirut), visiting to spend some time with a mother who wasn't all that involved in her upbringing. Mia was the result of a dalliance Evelyn had while at an Iraqi dig, back in the 1970s, back before Saddam, back before the Middle East and Beirut turned really dangerous.

Evelyn gets kidnapped, and Mia somehow is in the middle of it. There is a helpful CIA officer stationed in Beirut and there are the folks working for a shadowy doctor who is trying to get whatever that Iraqi man was going to deliver to Evelyn. It all becomes mystical, and mysterious with clues and puzzles to solve, as the past continues to enlighten us as to who the players are. Especially after the appearance of one of the mystery outsiders who is making a play for the manuscript and with whom Mia eventually hooks-up. Could he be working with the Shadowy doctor?

In many ways this is standard Thriller fare, but in many other ways there is an excitement underneath as the cloth is slowly pulled away to reveal more of the canvas. How are all of these characters connected? Is there something in this manuscript of very high importance? In some ways, I wish that the pacing of this story was a little tighter, and I also wish that a clearer focus was maintained on the singular objective of the 21st century characters. Because, especially after a while, the interludes into the past looked like random tangents going no-where. Once you established the main, critical, over-arching conflict of the book, it is not necessary to beat us with it time and time again. Maybe one brief interlude to either show us how the chase continued down into time, and then update us into the present. After a while, the past interludes got REALLY boring. But, you always come back into the present to see how the main characters were fairing.

In the end, a decent book that read like a quick adventure movie. I would recommend it without hesitation, and of course, I now have to read more Raymond Khoury. Three stars.

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