D.J. Niko’s “Sarah Weston Chronicles” are simply stated, a guilty pleasure! The Riddle of Solomon follows hot on the heels of The Tenth Saint, which was reviewed here some months ago. In that initial volume, the reader was introduced to feisty Cambridge archaeologist, Sarah Weston, and her sometimes lover/sometimes bete noir, American anthropologist Daniel Madigan. Together, the two foiled a nefarious plot hatched in the wilds of Ethiopia. Unfortunately, the archaeological mission they were on turned out rather disastrously and as we catch up with our heroine, she is now an ex-Cambridge archaeologist working as an assistant to Daniel Madigan in the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia.
Digging in a desolate area called the Valley of the Wind, Sarah unearths an acacia saddle frame and a clay pot embossed with a human-headed, winged lion amidst the telltale remains of a caravan long lost to history. Following an attack by Bedouin tribesmen, Sarah discovers a buried alabaster box, decorated with the same human/lion motif that contains a papyrus scroll inscribed with Egyptian hieratic writing. The text of the scroll, translated by Mariah Banai, a colleague of Daniel’s who heads up the department of languages at King Saud University, is obscure in meaning but does seem to hint at secrets long lost to humanity. Further analysis indicates that the scroll may have originated in ancient Israel and that the writing was done by a woman scribe in service to an Egyptian queen. Mariah believes the queen in question may have been Jezebel of Old Testament infamy and that the text alludes to her hidden treasure, while Sarah believes it refers to the Queen of Sheba and the lost secret is somehow tied to the arcane mythologies that swirled around her lover, King Solomon.
Disaster after disaster befalls the Valley of the Wind project as it becomes apparent that the Bedouin attack was no one-off occurrence and that sinister forces are at work to learn the secrets contained in the scroll. Both Sarah and Daniel must face dangers at every turn as they match wits with a megalomaniac who sees himself as the rightful heir to the throne of King David and his son Solomon—the Messiah, who will re-build the Temple to Yahweh in present-day Jerusalem. To do so, he will regrettably need to foment a war with a few million Muslims—but such are the ways of megalomaniacs.
As I stated at the outset, Sarah Weston’s adventures are a guilty pleasure. The heroine and hero are endearing, although they often do incredibly stupid things that put them in harm’s way. The villain is villainous beyond belief but is equally prone to doing stupid stuff, like simply killing Sarah and/or Daniel when he has the chance. So the reader must employ a great deal of suspension of disbelief and must put up with some jaw-dropping metaphors and similes. But through it all is a fun summer-time or mid-winter read. I love Sarah and Daniel, but The Riddle of Solomon still earns only two trowels.