Daniel Levin’s thriller keeps the flame alive

This review appears in the October 2010 issue of the [Jewish Federation of Collier County] Federation Star and in the October L’Chayim, published by the Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties.

The Last Ember, by Daniel Levin. Riverside. 460 pages. $16.00.

When former classics scholar and disgraced academic Jonathan Marcus shows up in Rome to help his law firm with a case involving ownership of antiquities, little does he know that he is stepping into the brutal world of architectural terrorism. Still less could he anticipate that he will be involved with attempts to recover perhaps the most important artifact in Jewish civilization and along with it a new understanding of the historian Josephus. 

Nor did he anticipate the renewal of his relationship with Emili Travia, with whom he was romantically involved some seven years back when both were fellows at the American Academy in Rome. She is now Dr. Travia, deputy director of a UN agency involved with antiquities preservation issues. 

All this and more happens in Mr. Levin’s fast-moving thriller that compresses thousands of years of history as background to a few days in the present. The 105 bite-sized chapters are packed with information, imagery, and action as the race is on between Jonathan and various Roman and Israeli interests on the one side and Salah ad-Din, the grandson of Hitler’s ally the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, on the other.  Each seeks to find (for very different reasons) the enormous solid gold Temple Menorah of ancient times. 

Perhaps with the complicity of the Waqf authority – an Islamic land trust charged with overseeing Temple Mount antiquities – the Grand Mufti’s heir in villainy is determined to obliterate all traces of Jewish and Christian presence in Jerusalem. His architectural terrorism is in the cause of rewriting history and thereby shaping the future.

Certain passages in an early parchment of Josephus’s history hold the clues to the menorah’s location. More accurately, they hold the clues to other clues that are hidden – mostly in plain sight – beneath the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and beneath the Coliseum and other locations in Rome. Who will decipher the clues and find the world-changing prize? Will Jonathan make his case that the discredited Flavius Josephus was really a valiant secret agent taking great risks on behalf of the Jewish people?

As Daniel Levin shuttles the action from one intriguing and fully drawn location to another, he develops a cast of intriguing supporting characters, an intensifying romance between Jonathan and Emili, and a magnificent orchestration of major religious and political forces at work as past and present collide in dramatic fashion. Check out his website, daniellevin.com, for more information.

Daniel Levin will be in Southwest Florida as part of the Jewish Book Fair, a project of the Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties. On December 12 at 3:00pm, Mr. Levin will be speaking and signing books next to Godiva Chocolates at Miromar Outlets in Estero. With him will be author Lee Kravitz. For more information about the book fair, which has author events scheduled from November 10 through December 16, check out jewishfederationlcc.org or email naomirubin@jfedlcc.org.

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