Saturday 22 June 2013

The Labyrinth of Osiris, by Paul Sussman

The Labyrinth of Osiris, published in 2012, is the fourth and sadly last novel by Paul Sussman, who died shortly after completing the book, aged only 45.

I said in my review of his previous book, The Hidden Oasis: [his stories] are written to the same formula; present-day adventure thrillers in which the characters are struggling to solve mysteries linked to events in both the recent and the very distant past. The author's background as a field archaeologist who has spent much time in Egypt is made full use of, with rich descriptions of the country and of archaeology, and his understanding of the different cultures of the region comes through clearly.

His final book is written along the same lines. The story features the one common character in all of his novels - Inspector Khalifa of the Luxor Police – who shares centre-stage with an old friend, Israeli detective Arieh Ben-Roi, who we previously met in the second novel, The Last Secret of the Temple. The two detectives spend most of the novel struggling with their separate problems (the murder of an investigative journalist in Jerusalem, and well-poisoning incidents in Egypt) but are brought into contact again almost by chance, and discover that what they have been working on are elements of the same, far-reaching, case.

The Labyrinth of Osiris works on several levels: it is an intriguing detective story with strong characterisation and a complex plot; a tough international conspiracy thriller; an archaeological mystery of ancient Egypt; a rich portrayal of life in both Egypt and Israel today, and above all great entertainment. There are twists, turns and surprising developments throughout, building up to a strong climax. I generally dislike long novels and this one has no fewer than 750 pages, but I was gripped from beginning to end.

There is one noticeable difference between this book and the other three; there is a shift in emphasis towards realism, with the fantasy element missing. Strictly speaking this means that this book doesn’t qualify for inclusion in this blog, but in view of his other work, and the fact that this was his last, I felt it appropriate to write this review. This is Sussman’s finest work, and we have lost a compelling story-teller.


Fred said...

Thanks for the review. They sound interesting as I enjoy murder mysteries that also go back into the past. The library here has a copy of
_The lost army of Cambyses_, which according to the publication date is the first of the four, so I put it on reserve.

The library here though lists all four as mysteries with no mention of any fantasy elements.

Anthony G Williams said...

The fantasy elements in the first three books are not strong (except right at the end of the third one) and I made the point in my review of the third one that I felt that the rest of the story is so realistic that it would be better off without the fantasy.