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This is a review of the Berkley's paperback reprint of THE HORUS KILLINGS, which was first published in hardcover in the US by St Martin's Minotaur in 2000, and originally in England by Headline in 1999. There is one previous book in Doherty's Egyptian series, titled THE MASK OF RA (also available froom Berkley Prime Crime); a third book, THE ANUBIS SLAYINGS, will be available next year.
Paul Doherty is a British author with a very large number of books in print; this is not because any one of his books has had wide distribution, or sales in large numbers, but rather because he writes prodigiously under at least half a dozen . In a recent longish interview for MURDER: PAST TENSE, the newsletter of the Historical Mystery Appreciation Society, Doherty shrugged off his productivity as a writer, pointing out that he also has a full time job as headmaster of a London School, is married, and has seven children. (Does the man ever sleep?) He is said to have published an average of five full length novels per year for many years. Not surprisingly, given the nature of his output -- largely historical mysteries -- Doherty's Oxford doctorate is in history.
THE HORUS KILLINGS is a fast read, an entertaining, engaging, and well-written book. The Egyptian setting falls during the time of the Pharoah Queen Hatusu in the 15th century BCE. Many of us may be more familiar with this historic queen by the name Hatshepshut. Her consort and First Minister was Senenmut, a man she never married. In spite of their historical prominence, these two play relatively small roles in the book, though the plot turns on Hatusu's effort to have her ascension to the position of Pharoah approved by a council of Egypt's High priests. These priests are called by the names of the Gods they represent: Amun, Hathor, Isis, Osiris, and Anubis. The council has been called to meet in the House of Horus in Thebes. For this reason, the priest who represents Horus is given a larger role in the book and his true name, Hani; Hani shares his priesthood with his wife, the high priestess Vechlis. These two are the only members of the council who openly support the right of a woman, specifically Hatusu, to be Pharoah.
The protagonist is Amerotke, the Chief Judge of Egypt ... and he is a very attractive character. Intelligent, compassionate, fair-minded and untiring, Amerotke assumes the role not only of judge but of main inquirer (in our sense, the detective) into the several strange and violent murders that soon begin to occur.
In between advocating for the female Pharoah, at her request, before the priests' council, and investigating the murders that all take place in the Temple of Horus, Amerotke also manages to hear and to settle several court cases. The court scenes are fascinating, some of the best in the book. Think of a riveting episode of Law and Order taking place in ancient Egypt, with Amerotke as star of both the law and the order halves of the story, and you won't be far off the mark. Except that, for an avid reader, a book is better than a one hour television program any day.
In THE HORUS KILLINGS, Doherty maintains a balance between historical description and the action of the plot on perfect pitch. The mix is near perfect. The descriptive passages enhance the story, allowing the reader to vividly visualize an unfamiliar setting without detracting from the page-turning pace desirable in a light mystery.
Amerotke himself gives the best summary of his drive to action, which soon becomes our desire to read: "Most of the crimes he dealt with were those of passion, of lust, of desire gone wrong, men and women losing their tempers, or being negligent. Occasionally, however, he came across souls cloaked in eternal night, seething with malice, intent on wreaking death. He always wondered whether such individuals were sane, or possessed by the red-haired god Seth. These killings in the Temple of Horus were of that ilk...." Such is the motivation, of course, of every detective worth his salt, amateur or professional, in any age. But not all mystery novels -- perhaps especially those of the historical subgenre -- have detective-heroes who are so compelling and involving.
THE HORUS KILLINGS is definitely recommended, especially to people who don't usually read historical mysteries but would like to give one a try.
Reviewed by Ava D. Day, January 2002
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