Sanctuary: I use the term “thriller” loosely

I’m not sure how much there is to say about this book.  In Sanctuary, Raymond Khoury, whose previous book was The Last Templar, yet another weak thriller involving everyone’s favorite group, the Knights Templar (and a book I read but cannot remember), tries to integrate the unstable, present-day Middle East (specifically Lebanon with a dash of Iraq) with ancient alchemical mysteries.

The story begins with Evelyn Bishop, an archaeologist who has made her life in Lebanon for the last 30 years.  She is contacted by an old Iraqi friend who brings her a picture of an old book with an Ouroboros (snake or serpent eating its own tail) on it because he knows whe will be interested because of a dig she was on 30 years ago in which she found an old chamber with Ouroboros carvings.

Before we know it, Evelyn is kidnapped and her daughter Mia tries to find her mother with the help of the UN and CIA while trying to thwart a dastardly Mengele-like villain who also wants the book.  Why is the dastardly villain seeking the book?  What knowledge does it contain?  Does it contain info to build some horrible bioweapon or something else like…the elixir of life?  Though the majority of the book takes place in present-day Lebanon, the book is also interspersed with chapters set in Europe during the 18th century which focus on a mysterious man running from enemies and questing for some knowledge related to the Ouroboros.  How could these two narratives possibly be related?

The book lost my interest after the first 100 pages.  None of the characters were well-drawn, and the book could have bene about 100 pages shorter.  I felt that one of its main problems was that too much time was spent in the present on mundane matters instead of investigating the more intriguing mystery of the Ouroboros and its presence in many civilizations throughout history.  Characters suddenly reveal hidden agendas, twists that seem less clever than a result of poor characterization.  It seemed like Khoury was trying to weave together too many agendas and themes, resulting in a book in which nothing worked. 

Khoury did succeed in one thing:  he made me wonder what a thriller about the ancient Middle East and its mysteries might be like.  He created a background for Mia, Evelyn’s daughterk, that had her in Lebanon in order to explore the Phoenicians, a civilization about whom little first-person information is known but who contributed much to Western civilization.  THAT could have been an interesting book!  Books involving the Middle East tend to focus around the Templars or the Grail…Christian and/or Jewish history and traditions.  But the Middle East was home to many, many other ancient, advanced civilizations who have little presence in modern fiction.  Iraq is the location of what used to be Sumer, the ancient civilization that birthed the Epic of Gilgamesh.  What about Zoroaster and Ahura Mazda?  Zoroastrianism contributed much to our concepts of heaven and hell.  Those would be great topics for a book.

For similar books/authors, try anything by Steve Berry, specifically The Alexandria Link.

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