(2009) Christian Jacq (translated from the French by Sue Dyson), Simon and Schuster UK,
£12.99, pbk, 342pp, ISBN 978-1-847-37371-7
This is the first British printing of Toutankhamon: L'Ultime Secret (2008) from XO Editions, Paris, ably translated by Sue Dyson, herself a prolific author of fiction and non-fiction, both contemporary and historical. Jacq, an Egyptologist of some note, has long been a popular author in Britain and is known for The Ramses Series (5 volumes), The Stone of Light Series (4 volumes), The Queen of Freedom Trilogy, The Judge of Egypt Trilogy, The Mysteries of Osiris Series (4 volumes), The Vengeance of the Gods Series (2 volumes), and another half-dozen stand alone novels, making this latest contribution something like his 28th book! Not counting non-fiction titles... Nearly all of them combine aspects of fantasy adventure (of an Indiana Jones type), thriller, romance and historical fiction, with probably the last of these aspects being the most problematic...
This book is set in 1951-2, largely in Egypt (though also in New York and London and elsewhere) during the period when King Farouk was overthrown by Nasser, Sadat and others, and a little before the full flare-up of the Suez crisis. Mark Wilder is an American lawyer who discovers that he is the son of Howard Carter (the discoverer of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922), led to Egypt by Abbot Pacomas, Christian, Copt and last of the High Priests of Amon. We discover the fantasy aspects of this novel early on when Pacomas performs an exorcism. Wilder is charged with discovering the lost papyri of Tutankhamun, since they contain spells of 'light' which will keep some unspecified 'darkness' at bay. However, Wilder's poking around attracts the attentions of the 'secret police' of Farouk, the security personnel of the Free Officers (the group of revolutionaries led by Nasser) and of the newly-formed CIA! Dragged into this world and used as a pawn by all players, Wilder can count only on the assistance of Pacomas and his beautiful daughter Ateya, and his colleague, Dusty, back in the New York law firm from whence Wilder comes. Opposing him is the shadowy "professor" who has called up the demon known as the Salawa to kill Wilder before the papyri can be discovered and their secrets be made known. Thereafter it all becomes a 'chase', not unlike the aforementioned adventures of Indiana Jones, though with less razzle-dazzle, as Wilder struggles to perform his mission before Egypt falls apart.
The book is a quick and straightforward read, perhaps in part due to the lack of sophistication of the French language, but it's kind of refreshing to have an author who gets on with things, rather than descending into pages and pages of reflective prose (that seems to plump out all too many books these days, especially fantasies). The slight (very slight) problem, alluded to above, is that Jacq is an expert in his field, and much is known of the situation in fifties Egypt, and the text is even strewn with authoritative footnotes, which is all very reassuring and informative but, and it's a big but, this is a work of fiction and it may be for some (lazy or poorly educated) readers a bit too convincing, and they may end up not knowing where the dividing line between truth and fiction lies. I suppose that might be seen as a strength, but lazy people are often all too willing to mislead themselves. Nonetheless, this book is recommended as a cracking face-paced adventure which will, no doubt, satisfy Jacq's legion of fans.
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