During of the War of 1812, British troops ransacked the White House and made off with valuables that were never returned. Two centuries later, a British curator finds a vital clue to the long-vanished loot. Within hours, the curator is assassinated—and Ayesha Ryder, a Palestinian-born antiquities expert, is expertly framed for his murder.
Who could be behind such a conspiracy? And why do they want Ryder out of the way? To find out, she picks up a trail leading from a mysterious nineteenth-century letter to the upcoming presidential election. As Ryder dodges killers in the shadow of hidden alliances, sexual blackmail, and international power plays, she finds that all roads lead to the Middle East, where a fragile peace agreement threatens to unravel . . . and another mystery begs to be discovered.
Ryder’s rarefied academic career and her violent past are about to collide. And her only hope of survival is to confront a powerful secret agent who has been waiting for one thing: the chance to kill Ayesha Ryder with his own two hands.
Last October I reviewed the first Ayesha Ryder novel, appropriately called Ryder. I really enjoyed this Dan Brown-esque tale with a strong political flavour. So I was really pleased to be able to review the second book as well. Ryder: American Treasure is set six months after the first book and is very much a tale in the same vein as the first, a thrilling treasure hunt, following clues left behind by some of the great figures of history. Yet there were also some very big differences to the first novel.
First of all, there is Ayesha herself. While still the erudite scholar and researcher she was in the previous book and very much as capable as ever, she’s also gained a new vulnerability and seems somewhat more troubled than she was before, mostly due to the fact that the walls she’s built around her past self and the memories that belong with that life have started crumbling. Her memories are rearing their ugly heads, but they are not just awakening old grief and guilt in Ayesha, they are also rousing a side to her that has lain dormant for years; the cold-blooded, unflinching, and ruthless Fedayeen, who kills without thought on training and instinct. It made her less-polished and darker than she was previously.
Secondly, Ryder: American Treasure is far more R-rated than the previous book; there are some hot and heavy scenes in there. A liaison between two unexpected, political figures, but also between Ayesha and her sidekick for this book journalist Milton Hoenig, the latter pairing having a very fun dynamic, that hopefully we will see again. The scenes are not necessarily problematic, but they were somewhat unexpected in comparison to the previous book, which didn’t contain any racy stuff. Lastly, instead of one quarry, Ayesha has two treasures to find: the Ark and the American Treasure. I liked how Pengelley interweaves the trails of both hunts and creates some unexpected connections in their stories.
The political focus of the narrative is still on the Middle East and how much events there have influenced politics and history and still do. For the record, after last book’s events, the world Ryder is set in is more of an alternative history than a contemporary thriller. Pengelley manages to insert some very pointed commentary in his narrative though, showing how influential US politics are on the world and how much the outcome of American presidential elections affect the rest of the world. He also injects some levity in the novel. At one point he has one of his characters reading the latest Dan Brown, which I found hilarious. And there are several instances where Ayesha decides on what to do next and Hoenig starts groaning in protest before she’s even opened her mouth, which was funny as well, especially since it is essentially a role reversal from the usual action thriller, with Ayesha being the competent action hero and Hoenig being her sidekick.
Unexpectedly, T.E. Lawrence still looms large in the story. He is the backbone of the historical elements of the story, connected to all of them either directly or at a remove. I love how Pengelley manages to find holes in history to fit in his plot and hide clues and events. His love of history, the Interbellum period in particular, is clear on the page. He also manages to make me want to read up on the history of the era, something that to me hallmarks a successful historical element to a story, even if this isn’t necessarily a historical thriller.
Pengelley ends the book on a satisfying note and with a nice hook for the next novel. I look forward to discovering how Pengelley will develop Ayesha’s character and how her emerging memories affect her in the next book. And I look forward to learning whether her sidekick shows up again and whether we see more of the brilliant Lady Madrigal. If you like no-holds-barred, pulse-pounding thrillers with a historical slant then the Ryder series is one you won’t want to miss. I’ll be here for the next one.
Tuesday, January 13th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, January 13th: Bell, Book & Candle
Wednesday, January 14th: Book Nerd
Thursday, January 15th: Queen of All She Reads
Monday, January 19th: Omnimystery News – author guest post
Monday, January 19th: Reading Reality
Tuesday, January 20th: Vic’s Media Room
Tuesday, January 20th: 2 Kids and Tired
Wednesday, January 21st: Reading to Distraction
Thursday, January 22nd: Joyfully Retired
Monday, January 26th: Dwell in Possibility
Tuesday, January 27th: Read-Love-Blog
Tuesday, January 27th: Words by Webb
Monday, February 2nd: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, February 5th: From the TBR Pile
Monday, February 9th: Brooke Blogs
Tuesday, February 10th: A Fantastical Librarian