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by Nick Drake
Bantam, March 2009
384 pages
10.99 GBP
ISBN: 0593054067

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Rahotep, the protagonist of this series, is the chief detective in the Thebes Medjay or Ancient Egyptian police force. He is a family man, happily married with three daughters and a young son, which makes a pleasant change, but more conventionally is cynical about both the political and religious institutions of the society in which he operates. Tutankhamun opens with Rahotep's being called out to a particularly vicious and unpleasant murder - a young man whose bones have been broken and eyes removed. His quest for the killer is interrupted however by a summons from the young Queen - Ankhesenamun - who is disturbed by the appearance of grotesque objects within the palace, which are severely testing the nerves of her equally young husband (and half-brother) Tutankamun. Rahotep is charged with finding where they come from and protecting the King and Queen. The political situation is highly delicate as real power is held by the sinister Regent, Ay, who is threatened by the chief Egyptian General, Horemheb. Ankhesenamun and Tutankhamun want to break free from their dependence and rule in their own right. Rahotep's dual quests are eventually revealed to be inter-related but the dangers into which he is led threaten that which is most dear to him - his family.

The problems which beset this book are revealed in the Author's Note which appears at the end. Nick Drake quotes Robert Graves as saying that his historical novels were attempts to solve ‘cryptic historical puzzles' ; Tutankhamun is Drake's attempt to solve the questions presented by Tutankhamun's tomb, the story of which gripped him when he was taken to see the famous British Museum Exhibition in 1972. The problem with this is that Graves's books are not, in themselves, mysteries, and it as a mystery that the failings of this book are most evident. The plot basically resolves itself into that of the deranged and self-justifying serial killer, whose motivations are given the appropriate period twists. But even this plot is, in fact, secondary to the story of the political machinations of the period and the provision of a narrative which will explain the ‘real' mysteries of the tomb.

Now if you are cognisant of or very interested in those questions, Tutankhamun will undoubtedly be of interest. But without this interest the book's other problems become very apparent. In the first place it is over-written with repeated descriptive passages which do not quite come up to the mark. The characterisation is pretty one-dimensional. The author is very clearly besotted with his subject and perhaps over-estimates the general reader's engagement. Above all it is extremely monotone and lacks any seasoning of wit or humour, any real variation in either pace or mood. This means that reading becomes something of a plod.

There can certainly be no question about Nick Drake's commitment to and fascination with Ancient Egypt. But the trick of making others share that commitment and fascination demands tools such as compelling plot, variation in mood and tone, and fine writing. Lacking these Tutankhamun remains a book only for those possessing their own fascination with the politics, religion and daily life of Ancient Egypt.

Reviewed by Nick Hay, July 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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