The Guardian, by David Hosp

Eight stars

At a time when Al Qaeda and the Taliban were still buzzwords in the region, David Hosp penned this thriller piece that centres around an ancient relic and its importance to the Afghan people. The ‘Heart of Afghanistan’ is said to date as far back as the time of Mohammed and has been kept safe in the country for many centuries. Having only been revealed publicly three times, the Heart guides its holder to great prominence over the Afghan people and sanctions their destiny. During extensive looting and pillaging in the aftermath of the War in Afghanistan, the Heart is shuttled out of the region. Intercepted inadvertently by an American soldier, Charles Phalen, a number of groups are seeking its return. When Phalen returns to Boston, he reconnects with his sister, Cianna, who was herself serving in the region before a dust-up sent her back stateside. Revealing to her what he has in his possession, the Phalens begin trying to plan their next step, which includes selling this most unique item. When they are visited by suspended CIA operative Jack Saunders, the three seek to keep the Heart from landing in the wrong hands. An encrypted intercept shows that the Taliban are on to Charles and have sent a team to take back the Heart, with the Agency also trying to track it down for their own purposes. Charles is captured and tortured, revealing the location of the Heart, after a horrible encounter with a blood-thirsty man. Cianna and Saunders continue their mission, remaining a step ahead of those chasing them, only to learn that the Heart is more than it seems. Deception and bravery are key to success, though this relic means much to the Taliban, who will kill for its return. Cianna and Saunders connect with one person they feel can be trusted, until they, too, fall victim to the wiles of the ruthless Taliban operatives. While goodness and honesty should prevail, trouble is, time is running out and there are fewer safe options from which to choose. Hosp delivers a politically-rich drama that offers some insight into the Afghan situation, while also painting a somewhat bleak picture of the current path to peace.

With all his novels centred around Boston, Hosp is forced to push the limits if he wants to include his story to fit in New England. He does so wonderfully as he offers a curious and highly intriguing backstory of his two protagonists, Cianna Phelan and Jack Saunders. Both receive much of the narrative time as Hosp paints their journeys to the present, dotted with struggle on both sides of the law. The plot does have a cookie-cutter nature to it: missing relic in the hands of an innocent person, chased by the evildoers, must save it before it lands in the bad people’s grasp. That said, the narrative pushes the story along nicely and Hosp’s attention to detail really does make things all the more interesting. His somewhat veiled diatribes about the American involvement in the region can get a little thick, but it serves its purpose to sell the impetus both sides have to ensure the Heart falls into the proper hands. While this is surely a one-off novel, having seen Hosp’s previous work, I am certain to read another and I encourage readers to give this and his other novels a try. The action alone keeps them highly interesting and forces readers to teeter on the edge of their seat.

Kudos, Mr. Hosp for this poignant novel. You are able to boil things down nicely while keeping a high degree of action in the telling of this story.