Last night I finished a novel called The Tiger Warrior by David Gibbins. The book is a blast; a thriller dealing with all kinds of fun stuff, including ancient Romans, archaeology, Genghis Khan, the British Raj, the Great Game, diving, old Soviet testing sites, and lots of adventure. It is also, of course, completely unrealistic, as so many of these books are. But there is always suspension of disbelief in these things, and Gibbins, unlike, say, Dan Brown, to whom he is compared in some of the blurbs on the cover, is diligent and honest in his research and clearly delineates what is factual and what is made up in the epilogue. I usually don’t even think about reality when reading these kinds of books but did this time as the team took off in their special ship for yet another theater of action. As it turns out, Gibbins is an accomplished diver and underwater archaeologist who grew up, well, jetting around on a ship and making great discoveries just like in the book.
Much of the later action takes place around Lake Issyk Kul (the term is a redundancy – kul or kol means lake in Kyrgyz and other Turkic languages). The book mentions the remains of a Church Of The East (commonly called Nestorian, though that is a pejorative) monastery on the shores, and the Wiki article talks about an Armenian monastery. The lake is close to the political border of China but it is really in the heart of the Turkic lands. The Church Of The East missionaries back in the day were fired up for Christ, and spread the faith well into China and Mongolia – the Mongolian alphabet is very clearly an adaptation of the Assyrian, which is the language of the Church Of The East. Christianity fell out of practice in those areas after the 14th century and today, sadly, the Church Of The East lives, as so many traditional eastern churches do, as a captive in its ancestral homeland, although there is a diaspora.
Another cool thing in the book is the passages that involve and talk about the Lee-Enfield rifle. The Lee-Enfield is like the MiG-25 – super-cool, classic and still in limited use in some places. Peter Hopkirk’s books on The Great Game (the struggle between Britain and Russia for supremacy in Central Asia during the colonial days) are must-reads for anyone who is into history, and his main tome on the matter has a classic Great Game image on the cover: a soldier using his Lee-Enfield as a stand for his telescope as he looks across the Kara Kol.
I like to mix up my reading, and these thrillers are fun end-of-the-day things to read before going to bed. The problem is that they are page-turners, and the next thing I know I am up until 2am! I have a busy week coming up (they all are, actually) but I will definitely make room for another Gibbins novel soon – good stuff.