Following NEFERTITI and TUTANKHAMUN, Nick Drake puts a cherry on top of his trilogy sundae with his third historical whodunit, set 33 centuries ago. “We had lived like gods on borrowed time, and now that dream was over.” Drake clarifies: “Ankhesenamun became the last surviving member of her dynasty, the eighteenth, when her husband Tutankhamun died aged around nineteen, the historical basis of this novel.”
"Political intrigue and a fact-based plot in this utterly believable historical thriller masterfully portrayed by Nick Drake serve as a wealth of knowledge without being stodgy or overwritten."
Teen King Tutankhamun has been mummified, cloaked in gold and lapis lazuli. His widow and half-sister, Queen Ankhesenamun, daughter of Nefertiti, has zero political support in the shadow of military leader Horemheb, whose attempt to take the throne was thwarted when Ankhesenamun married elderly distant relative Ay. Now, Ay nears death, and the Queen (“pharaoh” wasn’t used three millennia ago) dispatches Rahotep and royal envoy Nakht to the land of the Hittites (modern-day Turkey) to arrange her marriage with one of their king’s sons. Ankhesenamun does not specify military leader Crown Prince Arnuwanda, who is sure to counterpoise Horemheb’s power grab. Egypt’s archrival Hittite king instead sends his fourth son, Zannanza, who “dances beautifully, with little of the masculine confidence of his brother [and is] merely a commodity, bartered for political gain.”
Thebes Medjay detective Rahotep is “growing old. The hair on my head was grey now.” And he has been fired, after investigating the decapitation of five Nubian boys linked to Egypt’s burgeoning opium addiction --- “everyone’s going crazy for the stuff.” Rahotep takes it personally, when his friend “Khety’s head had been severed. The God Seth, Lord of Chaos and Confusion, is surely walking the streets of this city once more.”
A mysterious figure, Obsidian, has a heart darker than the glasslike stone, and feeds the opium pipeline into Thebes with a maggot-gagging method that can’t be detected by Horemheb’s army. “Obsidian has us all in his grasp, the End of Days was nigh.” The Queen’s edict bodes well for Rahotep, Seeker of Mysteries, who must go to the poppy fields in Amurru (Lebanon) to find the opium’s source. And Khety’s killer. But Rahotep faces demons on a deadly trek down the figurative Yellow Brick Road back to Egypt’s Oz-like land --- including a wicked warrior witch, Inanna.
Readers need not fetch back a burned broomstick to see parallels between life today and Egypt’s 3,300 years ago: decline of a world superpower, rampant drug addiction, corrupt political leaders, a military intent on world domination, high unemployment due to lack of government construction projects, and consummate greed of lenders and merchants. “It is true, there is a crisis in this land. Outside this bubble of affluence and illusion there is desperation. Poverty, cruelty and injustice have done their work on the people; corruption has replaced justice for the poor, and contempt has replaced respect for dignity, labour and integrity. Greed is our king, and corruption is his servant.”
Political intrigue and a fact-based plot in this utterly believable historical thriller masterfully portrayed by Nick Drake serve as a wealth of knowledge without being stodgy or overwritten. With the holidays fast approaching, EGYPT is a great gift idea, one of my Top Ten picks for 2011.
Reviewed by L. Dean Murphy on December 15, 2011