Review

The Murder of King Tut: The Plot to Kill the Child King

James Patterson and Martin Dugard

This book’s title may mislead readers who, not knowing
James Patterson’s vast outpouring of detective fiction,
expect a scholarly archaeological study of the circumstances
surrounding the death of Tutankhamen, the Pharaoh popularly known
as “King Tut.” THE MURDER OF KING TUT is no such thing.
It is a shrewd blend of fact and fiction, an airy set of variations
on an Egyptian theme, told in short chapters that whiz back and
forth between 1300 BC, the 1920s and the present day.

Patterson and Martin Dugard are not shy about touting the amount
of research they put into this concoction, but the reader who is
not himself an Egyptologist will have to be on constant alert to
distinguish fact from fiction. Did Tut really marry his own
sister?

The basic historical framework is well known --- the attempt by
Tut’s father Akhenaten to turn Egypt away from polytheism to
the worship of a single god by building a new capital city
dedicated to that god and far removed from Thebes, the ancient
capital. Tutankhamen became Pharaoh as a child, ruled for only a
decade or so and died under circumstances that Patterson and Dugard
see as a murder plot spawned by Tut’s failure to produce a
male heir to the throne. They finger three villains: Tut’s
younger sister whom he married in an unsuccessful effort to produce
the needed heir, a villainous general and an equally sneaky
high-level “grand vizier.”  There is a smattering
of rather sanitized sex in the book and a satisfactory amount of
blood and gore, delivered rather casually. A good many people end
up being beheaded or with their throats cut, as was evidently the
ancient Egyptian custom in matters of high state policy.

The authors tell their story in a series of tiny chapters ---
100 of them, plus prologue and epilogue in a book of 332 pages. The
palace intrigue thread is counterpointed by the story of Howard
Carter, the English Egyptologist who uncovered the tomb. Carter
left a detailed narrative of his work, from which Patterson and
Dugard quote liberally. They have, however, gone well beyond
Carter’s own account, embroidering and elaborating the story
with invented scenes and picturesque stage-setting. I was reminded
while reading of an Abraham Lincoln exhibit I once attended in
which a pair of eyeglasses was displayed with this caption:
“Lincoln seldom wore glasses, but if he had, they might have
looked something like these.”

My guess is that Patterson did the writing while Dugard served
mainly as researcher. The book reads easily as the brief chapters
glide by --- a bag of literary popcorn. The writing style is
breezily modern. Patterson, clever fellow, even manages to work in
a plug for himself, quoting Time Magazine’s
description: “the man who can’t miss.”

On the day I read this book, it was announced that James
Patterson has signed a deal with his publisher for 17 new
books, and early in this one he reports that in his study there lay
manuscripts of 24 books lying around in various unfinished states.
To call this man prolific would be like describing Babe Ruth as a
baseball player.

This latest book in that literary tidal wave may be described as
a kind of historically based entertainment. One doubts that the
question of how and why Tutankhamen died figures on anybody’s
list of top priority concerns these days, but Patterson and Dugard
have turned it into a pleasant afternoon’s escapist
diversion. It may melt away quickly in the mind and memory, but,
like popcorn, it leaves a distinctive aftertaste.

Reviewed by Robert Finn (Robertfinn@aol.com) on January 7, 2011

The Murder of King Tut: The Plot to Kill the Child King
James Patterson and Martin Dugard

  • Publication Date: September 28, 2009
  • Genres: Nonfiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 0316034045
  • ISBN-13: 9780316034043