Once, Harry Weaver had a photograph taken of the three of them together, standing among the tombs in the scorching desert at Sakkara, the Step pyramid as a backdrop, all of them tanned and smiling for the camera, Rachel between the men, her arms around their waists. And though no one ever said it, they each knew it was a happy time, perhaps the happiest in their young lives. But summer had to end. None of them could ever remember the exact date they had first met, but they would each remember exactly when the shadow was thrown across their path: September 1939. It was the month war had been declared in Europe, Hitler had invaded Poland, and their lives, like so many others, were about to be changed forever.
November 1943: Adolf Hitler sanctioned his most audacious mission ever—to kill US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill while they visit Cairo for a secret conference to plan the Allied invasion of Europe, an invasion which threatens imminent defeat for Germany.
Only one man is capable of leading the defiant Nazi mission—Major Johann Halder, one of the Abwehr’s most brilliant and daring agents. He is a man with a tortured soul and a talent for the impossible. Accompanied by an expert undercover team and Rachael Stern, the young and beautiful Egyptologist, Halder must race against time across a hostile desert to reach Cairo and successfully complete the assignment, or else forfeit his life and the life of his son.
When US military intelligence hears about the plan, they assign Lieutenant-Colonel Harry Weaver, one of their best officers, to hunt down and eliminate Halder and his team. But for Weaver, as well as for Halder and Stern, there’s more than the balance of war and the lives of the Allied leaders at stake—a pact of love and friendship will be tested in the frantic, high-stakes chase to the death.
* Has been published previously under the title The Sands of Sakkara
This novel has been described as “A heart-wrenching tale of friendship, love, and treachery set against the exotic and intriguing backdrop of wartime Egypt”, and that sums up my own experience perfectly. It was an experience that still lingers in my thoughts several days later. Nevertheless, I have argued with myself over how to rate the novel. The plot gets five stars, no question about it, but I was not convinced the execution was of the same calibre in the early stages of the novel. As a Christian reader, there were also some aspects of the story that made me a little uncomfortable. (Based on the book’s publisher I selected this book for review under the incorrect assumption that it was a Christian novel.) But when all is said and done, this novel got under my skin in a way that made anything less than five stars seem dishonest.
In 1939, Jack (Johann) Halder, Harry Weaver, and Rachel Stern took part in an archaeological dig that forged a strong friendship. Four years later they find themselves caught up on opposite sides of WWII, unknowingly pitted against each other in an assignment that none of them can afford to fail. We know that neither Roosevelt nor Churchill were assassinated, so to a certain extent we know what the outcome must be, and yet the further I got into the novel the more urgently I needed to discover just how all the chips would fall.
As compelling as the action was, it was the emotional tension that had me propping up my eyelids with matchsticks in order to finish the book. I guess that’s females for you :). If I had to choose one word to sum up this story I would say ‘poignant’, but I don’t think that does justice to the depth or array of emotions I had experienced by the end. I mean, what do you do when your best friend and the woman you love (and thought had died) turn out to be involved in a plot to assassinate the President of the United States? One thing’s for sure: There are no easy answers!
It did take a little while for this story to get to the action, so much so that I began to wonder whether the categorisation of ‘thriller’ was really warranted. This was largely because the author took the time to introduce several of the major players in the story, not just Jack, Harry, and Rachel, which, in turn, meant following several seemingly disconnected characters at first. But it was time well spent because the friction between these characters and their differing agendas and personalities was a large part of what drove the action forward. Once the assignment got underway any doubts about the label ‘thriller’ were left in the dust.
The main reason I debated how to rate this novel was that it did include a few frank acknowledgements of sexual attraction, as well as several references to sexual activity outside of marriage (including at clubs and brothels). However, there were no descriptive bedroom scenes and most direct references were limited to a few sentences within a larger scene (and therefore amounted to a very small percentage of the book in total).
My five star rating of this novel should not be construed as condoning the characters’ thoughts or actions in this regard. I will say it was a realistic portrayal of the characters in this novel (and human nature in its fallen state), and in a couple of cases actually demonstrated the emotional complications that arise from such casual relationships. More often than not, it served as an example of men responding to their baser instincts, and seemed aimed at evoking a negative rather than a positive response in the reader.
There is also a fair amount of violence in the novel, which is to be expected from the nature of the plot. This violence was minimally graphic, and in much the same way as the sexual references, seemed aimed at producing a negative response to violence in the reader rather than a positive one.
Finally, there is some mild swearing in the novel, most notably the word ‘bloody’ which appeared frequently as a mild expletive, and phrases like ‘God only knows’ which cropped up from time to time. True though that may be, the characters did not necessarily mean it in the literal sense.
Wow. This has been a long review. Sorry about that, but I do not want my five star rating to mislead people into reading something that contains material they would rather not read. Notwithstanding the caveats mentioned above, this book was an affecting portrayal of friendship, loyalty, and the truth that there are no winners in war.
Thank you to Howard Books for providing a copy of this book in return for my honest review.
Publisher: Howard Books
Release Date: 19 April 2016
Author’s website: http://www.glennmeadeauthor.com/
Buy from: Amazon.com