This book didn’t quite fit into any standard “tags.” It is an artifact thriller, but also a nuclear weapons thriller, a spy thriller, etc. It is about an American’s quest to find out what really happened on Masada, or Métsada as it is called in Israel. Our hero has a theory about why the people chose to commit mass suicide/murder and leave no survivors (although a couple of women and children did make it out alive), when the Romans finally were about to crash through the siege wall after 2 1/2 years of trying. According to legend and the ex-Jewish turned Roman historian Flavius Josephus, the 960 people on the mountain decided to kill themselves rather than surrender to the Romans, be taken prisoner, tortured, raped, and put into forced slavery, and have children flung from the ramparts. The Romans were NOT happy with them. They made sure to leave plenty of food, supplies and water so the Romans would know that this was their choice, not because they were forced into it by starvation. A last stand, thumbing their noses at the Romans. The men were commissioned with killing their wives and children, and then killing themselves. The men then drew lots, ten, to determine who would go around and do the clean-up, killing those men who couldn’t kill themselves, and anyone missed on the first round. And then one lot was drawn so that one man, the last man, could finish off any left and then kill himself.
But questions remain about treasure from the temple mount in Jerusalem when it was razed by the roman a number of years before – did some people take the treasure out of Jerusalem and hide it in the desert, or at Masada? David Hall, an American nuclear whistleblower physicist, now out of work because of it, decided to test the theory, so he plans an elaborate ruse of a man following a dream – to explore Masada more deeply, and “commune with the spirits.” Many have said that the dead walk there and in the Roman encampment still evident around it’s base. But as he clears it through the red tape and bureaucracy, he is assigned a scholarly “minder”, Dr. Yehudit Ressner, who is a widow – her husband died in a nuclear accident 5 years ago and she has retreated from the world. This little adventure is supposed to draw her back into the world of people. And so it goes – the American has deeper plans than what he has led the authorities to believe, and several Israeli spy agencies seem to be inordinately interested in his every move. For me, a slow beginning, gradually building up the tension and suspense to the level of more traditional thrillers, but it still kept me back at times, since I had been there, and so many places mentioned in the book I had visited or spent time at. I had gone to Israel in 1976, to Beersheva, to join an archeological expedition there on the site of Abraham’s well, as part of my college training. But we traveled to all the major historic sites, including Masada, Ein Gedi, the Dead Sea, etc. So I would stop, reach back into my memories, and go off on a tangent, coming back only 5-20 minutes later. So that may be the cause of the slowness at times. All in all, an interesting speculation, and as there have been a few books I have read lately involving Masada, it was a nice place to come back to.