Tutankhamun: The Book of Shadows: 384 pages; Harper; (June 29, 2010)
At the start of Drake’s superlative middle book in his ancient Egypt trilogy (after Nefertiti), Rahotep, the chief detective in the Thebes police force, visits a horrific crime scene. Someone has mutilated a young man and removed his eyes—and possibly pacified him with narcotics during the assault. When the killer strikes again, Rahotep wonders if the murders may be connected with efforts to destabilize the regime of the young Tutankhamun. The ruler’s foes include Ay, the regent who effectively runs the country, and Horemheb, commander of the country’s armies. Rahotep must tread carefully to identify the parties behind both the killings and the threats to Tutankhamun without jeopardizing his life and the lives of his family members. Drake seamlessly introduces a serial killer plot line into his vivid evocation of the past. Admirers of such great historical novelists as Robert Graves and Mary Renault will hope that he continues working in the field after concluding this series.
The second book in this series is much like the first, an interesting historical mystery that too often – at least for me – gets bogged down in description and language to the detriment of pace and plotting.
Rahotep is a melancholy poet turned investigator who gets pulled into the intrigue of the palace during the reign of the famous Tutankhamun. What seems a simple investigation into mysterious objects found in the palace turns into a mystery that may cost Rahotep everything and puts the future of Egypt at risk.
The characters and backdrop are interesting but too often Drake – a poet and playwirght – insists on detailed descriptions of both interior (ie emotional) and exterior scenes to the point that the story loses its pace. Rahotep is supposed to be a unique perspective – agnostic when it comes to the gods, introspective and prone to question everything – too much musing and description means less tension and action.
Those who like historical mysteries with lots of details may disagree.