Book review: Legacy by James Steel

Past and present collide in spectacular fashion in an action-packed and fast-paced adventure which spreads itself over three time zones.

By Pam Norfolk
Wednesday, 17th November 2010, 6:00 am

Five hundred years ago a German knight had a terrifying vision of the future and set out to discover its secret.

In the Second World War, an elite SS officer is ordered into the heart of Africa to solve an ancient enigma and in the present, a mercenary soldier operating outside international law comes face to face with the ancient prophecy.

Steel is an intelligent writer...not content with delivering a straightforward action story, he prefers to delve into the deeper social, political and historical implications of his plots, thus offering readers a thriller with a conscience.

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We first met his hard-nosed hero, former army officer and now globe-trotting mercenary Alex Devereux, in his gripping debut novel, December, and he returns here in another taut and tantalising mission impossible.

Devereux is a complex and compelling character...he can kill a man in cold blood and move on resolutely to his next victim but, haunted by conflicts in his own past, he cannot escape the darkness of self-loathing.

When he agrees to take on a job for a cartel of Lebanese diamond dealers in the lawless Central African Republic, he knows he will be operating outside international rules.

Devereux will lead a mechanised battle group and his target will be a remote diamond field which produces ‘green’ diamonds, rare and valuable gems that men have been known to die for.

Five centuries earlier, a young German knight, Eberhardt von Steltzenberg, became obsessed with a black Nubian Deathstone, an amulet mined from an extinct volcano in Africa and worshipped by a cult that mixed elements of Islam and Christianity with the essence of the spirit world.

Eberhardt set out for the deadly heat of Africa to discover the stone’s origin and to confirm his belief that it holds the nexus between life and death.

And in 1941, SS officer Otto Hofheim is ordered by Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler to track down the source of the Deathstone in Africa and save Germany from the prophecy of a great and unknown evil - whatever that might be.

Devereux’s date with destiny was written in the stars many years before he landed on African soil.

Legacy interweaves seamlessly between the three timelines as well as raising important moral questions about ideology, nationalism, race, liberalism and human identity.

A compelling and classy novel.

(Avon, paperback, £6.99)