Monday, December 13, 2010

The Topkapi Secret by Terry Kelhawk

The plot sounded so good. A group of Koran scholars are attempting to prove variations in the texts that would destroy Muslim belief in the book's perfection. As one character observes, “If what you say is true, how can we believe in the Koran or Mohammed?” (339)

And the first half of the book is pretty good. It is well written and contains lots of action.
About halfway through the book, however, the writing deteriorates. Character dialogue is used communicate (the author's) political opinions about the war in Iraq (see page 209). Scenes with heightened suspense are interrupted with paragraphs of descriptions and other commentary, as if the characters were sightseeing rather than running for their lives.
While the action is taking place in Arab countries the descriptions are sometimes so American: “Mohammed crashed in his room but couldn't sleep.” (223), “Hamzeh wanted to cut Mohammed off at the pass, if possible.” (386, in a Morocco city setting).
Sometimes the writing is just corny (the main characters see something “shocking,” the author says, as they watch a man electrocuted, p. 326).
The redeeming aspect of the novel is that one does learn a great deal about the Koran, its origin and possible problems with its validity. A very good synopsis of the issues are reviewed, almost lecture style, by one of the characters on pages 333-337. Unfortunately, the information comes at a cost to the novel's construction and flow: “First, let's review the basics,” a character suggests. (329)
It you can put up with uneven writing, corny dialogue, and paragraphs of the author's political commentary and sightseeing descriptions in the midst of intense action, you will learn much about the Koran and the Muslim faith. An effective editor could have eliminated the novel's pesky defects. Then it would have been a page turner.
The author has done her research but the question she posed in the novel is still unanswered. A postscript notes that the texts are still under study.

Prometheus Books, 402 pages.

This book was provided for review by Glass Road Public Relations.
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