Author of the Month

Name: Sam Bourne

First Novel: The Righteous Men

Most Recent Book: The Last Testament

'The subject matter could not be more current - or more universal in its significance.'

Following the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Baghdad Museum of Antiquities is looted and stripped of thousands of priceless cultural items. In the melee - whilst others are busy removing more obvious and visual treasures - a young Iraqi boy discovers a simple clay tablet and pockets it. So begins a trail that rapidly leads to murder, intrigue and the possibility of an answer, of sorts, to a major dispute of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. For this is no ordinary clay tablet…

At a point where a real breakthrough in peace negotiations seems possible, an incident at a rally sees a man shot dead by security guards right in front of the Israeli prime minister. After the shooting it emerges that the presumed assassin had no gun in his hand, just a message that he was desperate to get to the prime minister at all costs.

A series of deaths and mysterious tit-for-tat incidents seriously threatens peace negotiations and Washington calls in Maggie Costello – a ‘retired’ negotiator with a somewhat chequered past - to help salvage the deal. Soon Maggie is embroiled in a thrilling chase to get to the bottom of the growing body count, understand the extraordinary significance of the tablet and save her reputation. Peace in our time? The likelihood seems slim…

Following the huge success of The Righteous Men, Sam Bourne is back with a bang. The Last Testament is an epic tome set in even darker territory - and bang up to date with the subject matter. Like the classic ‘pebble in a pond’, the ripple effect of the discovery of a clay tablet echoes into a potential conflict of global significance.

Weaving threads of the storyline into a masterly display of the thriller-writing genre, Bourne rapidly traps the reader in a web of intrigue which certainly keeps the pages turning. There are, indeed, many layers to the story. Personal, historical, theological and political avenues are explored and interwoven with devastating effect.

The central characters, especially Maggie Costello, are drawn with sufficient depth and detail to help the reader understand their actions – whilst still managing to maintain a certain edge of mystery. We are drawn into their world and live the drama alongside them, rather than as detached observers.

Where The Righteous Men ended somewhat with a whimper of a ‘twist’, the conclusion to The Last Testament is perhaps rather more predictable, but nonetheless satisfying. This book will grab you from the first few lines and I guarantee you’ll be (literally!) thrilled you took the ride. The subject matter could not be more current - or more universal in its significance. We predict a guaranteed blockbuster!

Reviewed by: A.C.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) The Last Testament is not a classic 'crime’ book, more, perhaps, a 'thriller' with a crime element. As a professional author do you feel it is important to write with these market-driven genres in mind – or does the story always come first?
It has to be the story. Readers read stories – not categories. That said, I was keen both in my first book and in this new one to honour some of the key rules of the crime/thriller genre - not because they are rules but because they ensure that stories of this kind work. Also, I confess that the stories that come to me tend to lend themselves to the thriller form.
2) After the success of The Righteous Men, what first made you look at setting your next book in Jerusalem?
Funnily enough, I got the idea for the Last Testament almost the very moment I sat down to write Righteous Men. What came was the starting point, the theft of an ancient tablet, taken during those extraordinary days and nights of looting at the Baghdad museum in 2003. At that stage, that’s all I really had: I didn’t know then that most of the action would be set in Jerusalem. I’m glad it worked out that way, though, because I reckon the city, which crackles with tension at the best of times, is a natural location for a thriller.
3) You’ve combines a highly personal story with some big political and cultural issues. Which interested you more?
It’s hard to choose. The political stuff was most familiar to me, since this is a conflict I’ve been following for the best part of two decades. It fascinates me. The cultural issues were newer terrain: I had to do some extensive research on the illicit, international trade in stolen antiquities – interviewing the former head of Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiquities Squad among others – and I found all that gripping. But the personal story did really pull me in, crafting these characters, working out their motivations – and ultimately their fates. I knew that none of the political conflict would matter to readers unless the personal story was compelling – and I hope it is.
4) Was writing a central female character a challenge?
It was – but also a pleasure. When writing fiction, your task is to put yourself in the shoes, or inside the skin, of another person. But it can be tempting to fall back on your own personality, making your protagonist too much like yourself. A neat way of guarding against that is to make the character someone clearly unlike you – and Maggie Costello, an Irish-born, attractive woman in her late thirties, could never be confused for me.
5) Your ‘day job’ is working as a journalist. Do you enjoy the relative freedom of fiction, or do you find the endless possibilities sometimes daunting?
Mostly the endless possibilities are liberating: you have a control over events, something which is denied to the humble journalist. But fiction and journalism are not as different as you might expect. That’s not because we journalists make things up – though some suspect we do – but because for this kind of crime or thriller fiction, accuracy and research really matter. I have discovered that you have to get the factual detail right for people to believe in your story.
6) Is the jump from focusing on a few hundred words as a journalist to sustaining over four hundred pages as a novelist a difficult one?
I think it would be if I had never written over that length before, and it is very different from daily, short-form journalism. But I was lucky to have already written two non-fiction books before I sat down to write The Righteous Men, so the length was less of an issue than it might have been.
7) You clearly know the location you write about in some detail. Is creating a genuine sense of place important to making the story believable?
I think it’s essential. Readers will be ready to accept some of the wildest, most fantastic twists and turns of plot so long as the factual detail is accurate. You might believe that aliens really are about to land – but if the novel has Arsenal football club located in south London, you’ll hurl the book across the room. Also, a sense of place is vital for the mood and atmosphere of a novel – so that readers believe that the characters really are walking down this street or fleeing down that alleyway. To convey some of the genuine flavour of Jerusalem was something I really wanted to do with the Last Testament.
8) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
Well, the Silence of the Lambs is a classic. But, if we’re allowed to stretch the definition of a crime novel, it would have to be The Shawshank Redemption – if only because it is such a great film.
9) Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction fan in general and, if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
In truth, I’m more of a thriller reader than a crime fan, but I’m a major admirer of Ian Rankin. The sense of place he conveys in Rebus’s Edinburgh is a true model of how to do it.
10) What is your favourite crime/thriller read of all time?
Invidious to ask, but The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth is still awe-inspiring. Perfect pacing, perfect blend of the real and the imagined.