Pre-World War II tension is palpable in this suspenseful story which dramatically opens with explosions, riots and seemingly senseless killings in Jerusalem. A war may be looming in Europe, but as one character notes, Whats happening here and in Spain and China is the prologue. Before its over, the world will be bleak and changed forever.
In this time of chaos, Baron reveals the ways British control over their Palestinian Mandate is weakening. Her characters are drawn from the competing groups - a Kibbutzim Jew, Irgun arms smugglers, Arab Palestinians, the Grand Mufti al-Husseini encouraging insurrection, Nazi sympathizers, various members of the British community, and, in the midst of all, archaeologists. A naive young American, Lily Sampson, is a member of the latter group. When her mentor, the celebrated British archaeologist Geoffrey Eastbourne, is murdered and an ancient vial of importance to her disappears, she finds that given the indifference of the British authorities she must seek answers to the crimes herself. With this decision, her political awakening begins. Forced to confront the regions tensions and secrets, Lily also faces the ways she has been used even by those close to her.
Barons lengthy descriptions of the people, places and diverse cultures in 1938 Palestine are rich additions to the plot. Her background as an archaeologist who has worked in the Middle East lends particular credibility to the scholarly dialogues and details of the excavations. Some historic characters such as Lawrence of Arabia and the influence of American philanthropers, such as John D. Rockefeller, are mentioned, as is background to the reasons behind the struggle for the Middle East. Baron deals with gender by showing that although Lilys blond beauty allows her access in some areas, being young and female limit her in others.
There is a brief glossary of the terms used at the end.
A second Lily Sampson mystery set in the Morocco in World War II follows.