The Labyrinth of Osiris, by Paul Sussman

review published on September 10, 2013. Reviewed by Brendan Wright

Nudge Reviewer Rating:

The Labyrinth of Osiris is a sprawling thriller, taking place across several countries and time periods. The novel begins in early 1900s Egypt with a boy watching on as a blind girl screams out at a ghostly man in a leather mask, who rides away on his motorbike, leaving the girl slumped in the dirt. Moving to present day Israel, a body is found in the Armenian quarter in Jerusalem and Arieh Ben-Roi is tasked with piecing together the evidence to catch the murderer. Meanwhile in Egypt Khalifa has been given an innocuous case of poisoned wells. When further leads find Ben-Roi drawn to mining corporation, Barren, and their activities in Egypt, he phones his old friend Khalifa on a whim and asks for his help investigating, in the hope that the case may help his friend come to terms with the death of his son. As the pair work together, it soon becomes clear that the case is far more expansive than the simple poisoning of rural wells.

Sussman is excellent at evoking a sense of place, with the heat of the desert palpable in the pages. Native language and phrases are also scattered throughout, lending authenticity to his characters and further cementing the location in the reader’s mind (a glossary is provided at the back for translation). His control and timing of the novel is great too, with the tension slowly ratcheting as leads come together for a thrilling climax. Ben-Roi and Khalifa are well-drawn and the two characters are believable, with the Israeli struggling to balance his work and being there for his soon-to-be-born son, and the Egyptian distraught and unable to overcome the death of his son. The depth of research that the author has done is also evident throughout, with big names in archaeology such as Flinders Petrie and others brought in alongside discussions of the history and the area, yet these are always informative rather than overwhelming and do not hinder the plot. At times there is a slump in the action as the detectives hit lulls in their investigations, but Sussman uses these moments to further characterise his protagonists or the history of the countries.

As the scale of the novel is so huge, there are times when it seems too much of a coincidence that some of the evidence is linked, yet on the whole Sussman has written a believable and highly engaging thriller. Its archaeological bent is both interesting and provides an intriguing diversion from the action, but the author is expert at bringing everything back together and ramping up the tension with a breathless ending. The Labyrinth of Osiris is an intelligent thriller – a page turner with plenty of twists that will keep the reader guessing to the end.


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