Book Review: Betrayed: A Story of Palestine – Past and Present by Cara Louise

The Bottom Line: A gorgeously written, meticulously researched archaeological mystery. Despite a heavy political message, Betrayed is a satisfying page-turner that is well-worth reading.

Betrayed is a story of an American archaeologist living in Jerusalem who believes she may have found the secrets of the Ark of the Covenant, the implications of which have deadly political consequences.

While the plot might sound familiar, I guarantee that Betrayed is nothing like you’ve ever read before. The novel’s singularity comes largely thanks to two things: the book’s heavy-duty political perspective, and author Cara Louise’s great heroine, Charlotte Adams.

Charlotte is a far cry from the legendary archeologist Indiana Jones. She’s a whip-smart, driven and believable heroine that we can all identify with.

From a fictional standpoint, the book’s most harrowing moments don’t come in the present, but in the past, as the story switches between contemporary Palestine and accounts of an imperiled girl in ancient Canaan. It’s a compelling technique, and fans of the Order of the Sanguines series collaboration between Rebecca Cantrell and James Rollins are going to be right at home in these beautifully crafted sections of the book (harmless spoiler: there are no ancient vampires in Betrayed, although there is a playful reference to Buffy the Vampire Slayer). While these sections introduce jarring tonal shifts between past and present, they work because Louise is such a highly accomplished wordsmith.

Louise also gets bonus points for her depiction of Jerusalem. Hers isn’t the fabled Holy Land tourists flock to see except at night, which all is dark and velvety. Instead, it’s an urban jungle filled with suffering, ethnic tension and senseless violence.

With that said, some readers may be hard pressed to keep reading in the face of the book’s political commentary. Charlotte is strikingly one-sided in her view of the Israeli-Palestinean conflict. The government of Israel and ancient Israelites are consistently demonized throughout the book, and those views aren’t limited to Charlotte’s perspective.

While Betrayed may be too heavy-handed to persuade anyone of opposing political beliefs to switch sides, it should find a sizable audience of believers. After all, overt political activism in fiction often equates to big book sales (see Joel Rosenberg or Glenn Beck). Similarly, kudos to Louise for making no bones about where she stands (the book is dedicated to “the bravery and resistance of the people of Palestine”).

Surprisingly, none of this stops Betrayed from being funny in spots, especially in Charlotte’s scenes with Dr. Ben Travers, a co-worker and love interest whom she’s attracted to despite the fact that she finds him sexist. There’s good-natured tension between them, too, when Ben tries to convince Charlotte to drop the research project: “The Ark is the kiss of death for serious archaeology. Put this stuff out and you’ll have all the UFO spotters, crop circle crazies and New Age pyramidiots hammering at our door!”

It’s sound advice. But thankfully for Cara Louise fans, Charlotte pushes on with her journey anyhow.

Bella Wright

Bella Wright blogs about books, film and media.

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