The Last Ember: A Novel by Daniel Levin (Riverhead, August 6, 2009), 432 pages
Jonathan Marcus, former Rome Prize winner in classics turned New York lawyer, is called to Rome to help his firm’s case involving pieces of a giant stone map of Rome. One of the many surprises in store for Marcus is that the main witness for the opposition is Emili Travia, a classmate and close friend from his grad school days, which he’s left behind. Marcus is inexorably pulled into his former world of archaeology — his research while at the American Academy in Rome suggested that Josephus, rather than a traitor to Israel, was actually a very successful spy. All he lacked back then was motive to support the theory. Has he found it now, years later? In addition, his past holds some painful memories that he’s not too eager to unearth.
We also follow the breathtaking story from the point of view of Profeta, head of the Italian police antiquities division. Oh, and also from the view of Salah ad-Din, who is relentlessly following clues left him by his grand mufti grandfather in search of the same thing and illegally excavating beneath the Temple Mount and the Colosseum, among other places.
The characters crisscross the Mediterranean in search of answers. The mystery can’t be solved without the help of ancient manuscripts, as well as knowledge of dead languages and Judeo-Christian traditions.
This is a thriller. Couched in archaeology and religion. Writing this synopsis makes it seem silly to me, but it wasn’t while I was reading it.
My complaints are minor. I’ll still mention them, though. The flashbacks are awkwardly done. I felt like it could maybe be tightened. At a few points it seemed overwrought. The biggest one for me: some turns of phrase were were gawky enough that they pulled me out of the story.
I enjoyed The Last Ember. The story was fast-paced and engaging. I love that it involves archaeology, religion, ancient languages.
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