The Hidden Oasis
by Paul Sussman
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2152 BC, Egypt As the 94-year reign of pharaoh Pepy ll draws to a close, with the Old Kingdom disintegrating and anarchy slowly engulfing the Nile Valley, fifty priests set out under cover of darkness into the Western Desert, dragging with them a sled on which rests a mysterious object swathed in cloth. Four weeks later, having reached their destination, the priests calmly slit each other’s throats, the last one left alive falling on his own sword.
1988, Georgia, USSR A plane takes off from a small airfield near the recently decommissioned Mtskheta nuclear research facility, bound for the Sudan. On board, a cargo that will fundamentally tilt the balance of power in the Gulf. Somewhere over Egypt’s Western Desert the plane disappears.
The present, Egypt A group of Bedouin traveling near the southern edge of the Great Sand Sea discover a desiccated corpse half buried in the dunes. With it they find a Soviet-issue compass, a camera and a notebook on whose pages are scrawled a confused jumble of figures in a script they don’t recognize.
Shortly afterwards doctor Freya Hannan, 32, arrives in Egypt for the funeral of her elder sister Alex, a desert explorer who has lived in the Middle East for the past fifteen years. Recently diagnosed with a degenerative neurological condition, Alex has taken her own life. Freya is met at Luxor Airport by a colleague of her sister’s, who drives her the 515 kms to Dakhla Oasis where Alex lived. Only one other non-Egyptian is present at the funeral: Professor Flinders Flin’ Brodie, 45 - tall, rugged, handsome - a world authority on pre-dynastic Egypt. The funeral over, Freya spends the next few days sorting through her sister’s possessions and finding out more about her suicide. As she does so, she becomes increasingly uneasy. How was Alex able to inject herself so neatly with an overdose of morphine when her physical condition made it difficult for her even hold a pencil? Why was the morphine syringe held in her right hand when she was left-handed? And why had she chosen this mode of suicide at all given her lifelong detestation of injections?
When the aforementioned Bedouin turn up at Alex’s home with the objects they have found in the desert, explaining that she had promised to pay them for news of any unusual remains - especially Soviet remains - discovered out in the western wilderness, Freya realizes that it is not only her sister’s death that raises questions, but her life as well. And when the Bedouin mysteriously disappear, Alex’s home is broken into and the objects stolen, Freya realizes that her own life could depend on finding the answers to those questions.
- Grove/Atlantic, Inc., September 2010
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