Paul Sussman: Writer andarchaeologist hailed as 'theintelligent reader's Dan Brown'

 

Paul Sussman, a former Big Issue columnist, one-time game show host and an archaeologist, became an acclaimed and best-selling author with a series of thrillers described by The Independent as "the intelligent reader's answer to The Da Vinci Code". He was much loved for his self-deprecating and laid-back demeanour, allied to his quick wit and humour.

Following stints as a gravedigger in France and a Harrods' cigar seller, Sussman conceded that his life "was never destined to follow a wholly conventional path." Apart from writing, his other passion was archaeology, and in 1998 he unearthed the only item of pharaonic jewellery to be have been excavated in Egypt's Valley of The Kings since the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb by Howard Carter in 1922.

Born in Beaconsfield in July 1966, Paul Nicholas Sussman was the only son of Stanley, a sales manager for a textile manufacturer, and Sue, an actress-turned-psychoanalyst. After a few years in Hampstead the family moved to Northwood in north-west London. Schooled at nearby Merchant Taylors', Sussman read History at Cambridge. He fully embraced the collegiate lifestyle: he was in a thrash metal band, Meathead and the Turbohammers, represented St John's College at boxing, winning a blue, and won the Sir Joseph Larmor Award for his outstanding intellectual contribution to college life.

Graduating in 1988, Sussman drifted through his twenties with a variety of jobs, almost joining MI6; he also toured Europe in a "ground-breakingly execrable production" of Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, with Sussman as Aunt Sponge. He even tried his hand at stand-up comedy and co-ran the TAD Theatre Group in Widnes.

Sussman's life changed when he joined The Big Issue in 1992, selling advertising space. After much pleading from Sussman for a writing role, the magazine's co-founder, John Bird, acquiesced, starting him off as a feature writer and film reviewer. His column of irreverent, humorous news stories from round the world earned him a band of devoted followers, and, in 1996, spawned his first book, Death by Spaghetti. He won several awards for his "In the News" satirical column.

After seven fruitful years in "an edgy, chaotic, madcap and gloriously stimulating environment," Sussman bewent freelance, working for a number of papers including The Guardian and The Independent as well as CNN. While also working as a co-presenter on L!ve TV's cable talent show, Spanish Archer, Sussman met his future wife, Alicky, a researcher. In his capacity as Pedro Paella, as contestants were introduced, Sussman would sing a humorous ditty about them on an inflatable guitar. Alicky recalled, "Although we were at the pits of our careers, I knew he was the one straight away and I think he knew as well." Following "a mountain-top proposal" in Egypt they married in 2001. She later became a producer and director of documentaries for the BBC.

Sussman's Auntie Joan was responsible for his love of archaeology, following a trip to the Tutankhamun exhibition at the British Museum in 1972. Fascinated by the treasures on display, the six-year old began extensive excavations in his back garden in the hope of discovering something similar. With age, he became a dedicated "mudlark," digging along the banks of the Thames.

Through acquaintances, Sussman was invited to act as the diarist on the 1998 Amarna Royal Tombs Project – the first new dig in the Valley of the Kings since 1922; thereafter, he returned annually for two-month digging sojourns. He soon found himself supervising and, incredibly, discovered the only item of pharaonic jewellery since the original excavations. It was a small rectangle plaque of beaten gold, stamped with the cartouche of the pharaoh Seti II.

Sussman was more taken aback by the assortment of other revealing artefacts they unearthed, including a pair of beer-jar stoppers; a collection of copper chisel heads; an ostracon, a small limestone flake, bearing a cartoon of a man masturbating; and the leftovers of someone's fish supper. He noted: "These are the remains not of living gods, but of the men who dug and decorated the tombs – people who went to work, sniggered at rude jokes, had a beer and a takeaway at the end of the day. People pretty much like you or me. That's why I love archaeology: because it doesn't just show us how different things were, but also how similar."

Thereafter, Sussman's passion for archaeology and writing, added to a passion for Middle Eastern politics and current affairs, were fused in his debut novel The Lost Army of Cambyses (2002), which weaved the unexplained story of the 523BC disappearance of a Persian army in the Sahara with the investigation conducted by Inspector Yusuf Khalifa of the Luxor police into three seemingly unrelated murders and the explosive politics of modern Egypt. The book was described by one reviewer "as complex as a hall of mirrors and almost as gripping as a death threat".

His second book, The Last Secret of the Temple (2005), encompassed what was becoming Sussman's trademark – "not just a tightly plotted, richly observed, thought-provoking thriller, but one with a soul." He pushed the Dan Brown buttons, a review went, "adding plenty of satisfying twists and turns, and grounds the story in the violence and intrigue of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict." The Hidden Oasis (2009) was hailed as "an intelligent, compelling, beautifully written thriller."

With global sales of over two million, his first three books were translated into 33 languages. Five days before his death from a ruptured aneurysm, Sussman, who had recently completed Labyrinth of Osiris, due for publication next month, posted on his site: "proof copy of the new book arrived in the post this morning – very exciting. Curiously I am more excited about this one than any of my previous novels!" The former Big Issue co-worker and Guardian journalist Xan Brooks said, "He was particularly proud of the one he'd just finished: he felt he had nailed it."

As a family man, Sussman doted on his two sons and had a reputation for beguiling young children with his storytelling about witches, trolls and magical kingdoms. "He was like the Pied Piper," his wife said. "All the children loved him." A future children's book had been pencilled in. He is survived by Alicky and two sons. The couple's first child, Layla, died at birth in 2006.

Martin Childs

Paul Sussman, author, journalist and archaeologist: born Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire 11 July 1966; married Alicky 2001 (two boys, and one daughter deceased); died Denmark Hill, London 31 May 2012.

Life and Style
Jamie Oliver’s version of Jollof rice led thousands of people to post angry comments on his website
food + drink
Life and Style

Want to ward off (or welcome) trick-or-treaters? Here's how

News
Apple CEO Timothy Cook
peopleAnti-LGBT campaigner Vitaly Milonov suggested Tim Cook could bring 'Aids or gonorrhea' to Russia
Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Sport
Luke Shaw’s performance in the derby will be key to how his Manchester United side get on
footballBeating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Life and Style
Google's doodle celebrating Halloween 2014
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior IP Opportunity at Major Firm

vary Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - AN OPENING AT A VERY HIGH Q...

Nursery Manager

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Nursery Manager Long term Ran...

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes