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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
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Sussman, Paul: The Lost Army of Cambyses

  Amazon  

4 stars

Paul Sussman's The Lost Army of Cambyses takes as its starting point a brief reference in book three of Herodotus' History. Around 523 B.C. the Persian King Cambyses, having conquered Egypt, sent an army of 50,000 west across the desert against the Ammonians. The army made it halfway there and then was lost, reportedly buried in a sandstorm. They were never heard from again. What would happen, Sussman's novel asks, if the remains of that army were found today, the swords and shields and supply wagons and the men themselves perfectly preserved for two and a half millennia by the desert sands?

After dramatizing the sandstorm in his prologue, Sussman brings the story to the present, when rumor of the army's discovery has excited the interests of some unsavory characters. There are two strands to Sussman's narrative. A pair of gruesome murders somehow connected with an archaeological relic gets Inspector Yusuf Khalifa of the Luxor police involved. The case is particularly interesting to him because he is an amateur archaeologist himself, and because the relic is being sought by a notorious terrorist with whom Khalifa has a history. The story is also told from the perspective of Tara Mullray, whose trip to Egypt to visit her archaeologist father turns ugly after the murders.

Sussman's novel feels overlong at times and it's never quite edge-of-your-seat gripping, but it has a lot going for it: likable characters--particularly Khalifa--a clever, well-plotted story, some great scenes in the last third of the book in Egypt's western desert, and a pair of wholly unexpected plot twists at the book's end.

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