Four Americans in Egypt on an archaeological dig. In the blistering summer heat they are fighting amongst themselves. Then they unearth a body. It is an old priest who has been murdered.
The gruesome discovery sets in train a sequence of events that leads to a deadly Islamist attack on the ancient church where the Americans are working.
The leader of the expedition, Professor Rafa Harel, must decide whether to withdraw his fractious team or continue on a mission to unveil a controversial series of wall paintings, all the while knowing that these images have the power to spark even greater violence.
Meanwhile, watching over all of them is a dreamy young Egyptian Christian named Amir. His only quest in life is to become a martyr.
In my review of Roth's previous novel, Festival In The Desert, I stated that this was the best in the series and Roth shines in that one. Well, this last book in the series, The Coptic Martyr of Cairo, is definitely the best and Roth further shines. This is one well written, well researched and very compelling account of the conflict between Islam and Christianity in a predominantly Islamic country.It is ironic that in this story, the archeological finding in the St George Church proves that Christianity existed in Egypt well before Islam took root and yet it is this fact that Muslims do not want to acknowledge as this would be detrimental to their belief that they have more right to be in Egypt than Christians do. It is against this backdrop that adds further kindling to a long term political/religious conflict that brings to a head the controversy whether the persecuted Christian Church accept and do nothing in response to persecution or do they fight back. Roth explores this controversy very well in this novel, and it is quite clear that his research is well applied here.
The entire five books in the Brother Half Angel Thriller series give any Western Christian who may not have any idea of what the Christian Church endures in countries where they are persecuted for their faith, a dramatic eye opening revelation. Roth portrays it well through one of the main characters, Father Paulos Nazeh who says to Rafa, a Western Christian,
"....Our faith is in God, not governments. You are in a relationship with God, and you seem to believe that He tells you to lobby politicians. We are in a relationship with God, and He tells us that we shall suffer, and that some of us - perhaps many of us - will die. That is why the Egyptian church has lasted for two thousand years and will continue until the glorious return of Jesus. How long do you expect your church to last?”
Further on in the plot, when tensions between the Muslim and Christians escalate and Rafa is wanting to take his team home, Father Paulos states,
"Go. Americans are scared of death. They celebrate life, and that is good. So do we. But we also celebrate death. Because it marks a passage to a better life. We are not scared like you."
and a little further on,
"Go,.....Protect your lives. We are different from you. We read our Bibles about the beautiful kingdom of the resurrected saints and in our heart we yearn to be with them, if possible wearing the robes and the crown of the martyrs. Even our young think like that, because they know that 25 years or 75 years makes no difference to God. Death is the greatest gift that God can bestow on His people. It is an opening of the gate to our beautiful, eternal home. So we do not cling to life. We are in God's hands, and if He chooses to open that gate for us then we shall rush forward for our eternal reward."
And of Father Paulos' resentment to the worsening of tensions that the New Mercedarians have caused, he says this to Rafa, (concerning the difference between Western and Eastern Christian attitudes),
"...Your Korean friends have not especially helped us, but I will say one thing about them. I do not feel they have the same attitude to life and death as us. Unlike Americans, they are not afraid to die."
Roth's well applied research can also be said to have added depth to the characters portraying the tenets of the faith to the Christian characters of Rafa, Father Paulos, Amir, Riad, Mikel, Brett, Elly and of the Muslim characters of Mohammed, The Turk, and the local Imam. In the character of Susan, Roth portrays the typical ignorance and arrogance of the Westerner who does not have any strong religious bent and who is rather ambivalent and arrogant towards this religious/political conflict.
My only negative is that the ending was very sudden and very unexpected. I was heartbroken to discover that the New Mercedarians had failed to prevent the murder of kidnapped Mikel, and the reaction of Brother Half Angel was very sincere and realistic, but then the novel just quickly and suddenly ended! I really do hope that Roth continues this series. More of Brother Half Angel and his team would be great to follow and learn more about the persecuted church.
I loved what Roth included at the end of this novel, his final message to all of us who are Christian towards the persecuted Christian church, from Rafa,
"God is calling us to pray," he sobbed. "All of us. Everyone. We must all pray. It's what God wants."
After being enlightened to what the persecuted Christian Church endure gladly, as reinforced by Father Paulos' statements and Rafa's above, it is the least we can do.