The Last Man

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:: Kirkus Reviews
In A.D. 73, a few desperate Jews in a mountaintop holdout are about to be overrun by the Roman army that has laid siege. They prefer suicide to surrender. The last man, Judah Sicarius, is selected to make sure all his compatriots are dead, down to the last woman and child, and then he is to kill himself. Two millennia later, the American David Hall receives reluctant permission from authorities to explore parts of Masada, the mountain that in real life has become a revered historical site in Israel. But they don't fully trust him to leave the place undisturbed, so they assign archaeologist Dr. Judith Ressner to chaperone him. (Will the reader be surprised to learn that she's beautiful?) Hall masquerades as an enthusiastic amateur, but he has a secret agenda that leads him to break rules and violate people's trust. Even so, he acts without malice and is a likeable character. Key to the story are natural cisterns inside the mountain that hold the accumulated rainwater of thousands of years. What is Hall's true interest? And why do authorities even care what he finds as long as he doesn't ruin any artifacts? Meanwhile, the widow Ressner provides an enjoyable subplot that threatens to turn romantic as she grapples with problems of her own. The perils in this novel come from an unexpected direction, and even once they are revealed there is one big secret left. Deutermann's descriptions of Masada, its cisterns and the Dead Sea are well-done indeed. In particular, Deutermann skillfully maintains tension right to the end. Unlike some thrillers that keep the reader's adrenaline going with increasing body counts and steamy sexual encounters, this one just tells a terrific story with a satisfying payoff.

:: ABOUT BOOKS By Claire Ernsberger, Ph.D.
The Last Man by P. T. Deutermann (St. Martin’s) A fine, big new novel by this great entertainer. Deutermann writes excellent private-eye thrillers, but also big military combat novels. This new one is something that doesn’t quite fit into either category: part historical thriller, part contemporary international-intrigue and combat novel. It’s set in Israel, around the ancient mountaintop fortress of Masada, and all of the 2000-year-history of that place casts ominous shadows in today’s story. As always in Deutermann, complicated, likable characters. Very intelligent, skillfully told, compelling—all words I’ve used for Deutermann before—and recommended.

:: The Poisoned Pen
Deutermann, PT. The Last Man (St Martins $28). Deuterman, the author of naval thrillers, the Cam Richter North Carolina mountains series, and various thrillers, turns his military experience and novelist's eye towards the Judean Hills and a fortress called Masada overlooking the Dead Sea and the salt mines where the Jewish revolt against Rome of 70 AD ended with the deaths of 960 defenders if we believe the count of Josephus (I think 5, two women, 3 children, survived). We see the events, the strategy of the Tenth Legion, and that of the Jews, in a way I've never experienced (think James Michener's The Source or Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers). Today, American nuclear engineer David Hall arrives in Israel on a mission he believes inherited from someone he loved: to discover if the defenders at Masada killed themselves not just to avoid falling into the merciless Romans' hands, but to preserve a secret. Hall ends up escorted from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to Masada by Judith Ressner, an Israeli archaeologist with an agenda of her own. The modern thriller elements in this story are well imagined and great fun: it's clear that Deutermann has familiarized himself with every inch of the ruins including Herod's great stone palaces, so you can walk them with David Hall as I did. And it's clear that the fiction is in part propelled by the fascination of its history and in part for what it says about today's Middle East and how it got to where it is.


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