The Cooper family and their assistants are joined on their excavation of the temple by Talmai Ben-Arba. A mysterious, yet knowledgeable stranger, Ben-Arba is torn between his lust for rumored treasure and his desire to protect the Coopers, who he respects but doesn't understand.
The Coopers and Ben-Arba must battle hidden, Indiana Jones-style snares, a powerful sorceress, and the Yaharim, who worship Anak through ritual sacrifices. When Lila interrupts one such sacrifice, the Cooper expedition becomes the next target of the bloodthirsty Yaharim and their god, Anak. Since the Coopers are Christians, they do not believe Anak is a ghost, but they must gain the trust of Ben-Arba to finally unravel the secret. Ben-Arba's help becomes even more important when Anak starts hunting Lila and Jay who have become lost in a labyrinth under the tombs.
In a completely satisfying finish, the children are saved, and Ben-Arba renounces his greed and becomes a Christian intent on redeeming his life and the lives of his people, the Yaharim.
What I Like: The Tombs of Anak is well-crafted, with a suspenseful, dramatic storyline. The plot suffers from none of the inconsistencies present in the first two books, and gives evidence of Peretti's renowned prowess as a storyteller. (Keep in mind, these books were published over two decades ago.) Though suspense keeps readers turning the page and there are a couple of fatalities, the book shouldn't give anyone nightmares.
We are also starting to see more of Jay, Lila, and Dr. Cooper's characters, and we care more about their fate. I also love the sequence of Ben-Arba's conversion. It is clear the main reason he admires and respects the Coopers is the evidence of their faith in the face of adversity. I love happy endings, so I was excited to see him become a Christian.
The book would work well as a stand-alone, or as the third of a four-part series. (Watch for the upcoming review of book four, Trapped at the Bottom of the Sea.)
What I Dislike: I do wish we could see a bit more about what motivates Jay and Lila. After nearly being sacrificed to a giant snake in book two, I would have asked my dad if I could go to a nice, safe boarding school and read about his exploits in National Geographic. Nonetheless, I suppose Lila is braver and more adventurous than I am. However, I still would think she wouldn't wander off in search of firewood by herself (and subsequently disturb a sacrifice) directly after a narrowly escaping from a Yaharim wearing a gruesome wolf mask. But, Lila definitely increases the suspense factor, so readers will forgive her poor choices.
Overall Rating: Excellent
Age Appeal: 10-14, but older teens may enjoy it as well.
Publisher Info: Crossway Books, 1987; ISBN: 978-1-58134-620-6; Paperback, $5.99
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Special Information: Check out our reviews of the first two books in The Cooper Kids series here.