BookSurge Publishing: North Charleston, SC
An imaginative and credible archaeological dig provides the setting for this entertaining and well-written self-published novel by author Roy M. Schultze, a retired journalist.
Charles Beranek is a popular scholar/lecturer Columbia University professor of archaeology. He has struggled for peer recognition throughout his years in academia, and has finally achieved professional notoriety late in his career—he is 66 years of age—working a fabulous site on the slopes of Mount Param in eastern Iran. It is the fabled—and fictional– citadel of Elerus, one of the satraps of Xerxes, constructed in the 5th Century BCE, and purportedly alluded to by Herodotus.
Following a series of mishaps to his more seasoned crew, Beranek finds himself leading a group of mostly American students who are novices at excavation on this, his fifth year on the site. Earlier in the project, he and his crew unearthed a fabulous trove of palace treasures horded by Elerus—those treasures are now displayed in the small museum Beranek helped create for the people of Iran in general and the villagers of nearby Ariya, who have provided the shovel and pick-axe muscle for the project throughout its duration. In this, what will likely be the last year of excavating, Beranek is obsessed with discovering the legendary Golden Vault of Elerus, which is rumored to have held even greater treasures than those already unearthed.
The dig takes place within the context of a precarious near-future Iran when Islamic moderate reformers have achieved political ascendancy in the person of President Rostam Salleh. But the forces of reaction and zealotry—represented by the mullahs and even his own son, Maziar– are still strong and Salleh’s losing battle with cancer bodes ill for those forces of moderation. As the dig proceeds on Mount Param, terrorists a half a world unleash a deadly attack in Hawaii, and a deathbed confession by one of the killers tells of a terrorist training facility in southeastern Iran. This immediately triggers a grave international crisis between the US and Iran. Hardliners led by the reactionary son of President Salleh assume control and orders are issued from Teheran to arrest the American archaeologists working on Mount Param for stealing artifacts. They will be held in custody and used as hostages, much the same as the 52 Americans who were held as prisoners for 444 days more than thirty years earlier.
Despite misgivings by many members of the crew, which now includes war journalist Daniel Wickes, who is free-lancing on a story on the excavation for Smithsonian Magazine, Beranek determines that they will hold out against the Iranian military forces by taking refuge in the citadel, much as Elerus did 2500 years earlier, when besieged by hostile forces. Against all odds Beranek convinces his young charges to stay united and to dare the Iranian forces to strike—a step he believes they will be reluctant to take because of the potential repercussions from America and the rest of the world. But it is a risk that puts the lives of innocent young people in harm’s way and Beranek is well aware of that risk. But his confidence—or is it hubris—drives him on and even as they are besieged by the Iranian military forces below, Beranek urges the crew on to discover Elerus’s Golden Vault, which not only hold vast treasures but also the possible key to their escape from the cliffside Citadel.
Beranek’s Stand is at times terribly melodramatic, and often requires a healthy suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader, but author Schultze also offers sensitive insights into the characters of the crew members under siege in the Citadel—especially Charles Beranek, who is driven by a host of angels as well as demons, as he tries to do his best to lead his motley little crew. This might have been a better novel with fewer plot detours into conspiracy and intrigue, but it is still a strong entry for this first-time author. Two trowels for Beranek’s Stand.