Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Murder of King Tut The Plot To Kill The Child King A Nonfiction Thriller by James Patterson and Martin Dugard

I wanted to like this book, I really did. In fact, I was so eager to read it that I pre-ordered it over a month prior to its release, so I am very sorry to report that it was a colossal disappointment.


This book is presented as non-fiction, and Mr. Patterson, via reading and the Internet, and his co-author, Martin Dugard, via actually traveling to Egypt, claim to have done extensive research. Well, suffice it to say that this reader, who is by no means an expert but has been fascinated by Ancient Egypt, especially the Amarna era, since childhood and eagerly reads about it and watches just about every documentary about Egypt and mummies that comes on television, was surprised by such eye-popping revelations such as the, as far as I know, never before revealed "fact" that the "Heretic Pharaoh" sun-worshipper Akhenaten died in the act of sexual intercourse with that shaven-headed siren of the Ancient World Queen Nefertiti. "He died in a burst of happiness. His heart was so filled with joy that it exploded," Nefertiti discreetly explains to young Tut, the heir apparent. Well, if this is indeed how Akhenaten died, one hopes that his final climax was enjoyable.

Being only half-royal, the son of secondary wife, Kiya, who had supplanted the beautiful Nefertiti in Akhenaten's bed and affections before conveniently dying in childbirth, Tut is urged to marry his half-sister Ankhesenpaaten (best known today as Ankhesenamen), a fully royal-blooded daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, to cement his claim to the throne. Happily the two are best friends and soon fall in love. And watching over it all is royal scribe, later vizier, Aye, who lusts after Nefertiti and longs to be Pharaoh himself. But Tutankhamen is fated to become Pharaoh, so Aye poisons Nefertiti and she dies a slow and painful death as she stoically continues to educate Tut to be a great King, unlike his late father, who is presented as a rather idiotic and possibly insane man who advised the great warrior General Horemheb to give up the military and take up painting and writing poetry instead.

But Aye continues to covet the throne. And after Ankhesenpaaten gives birth to two stillborn children and Tut fails to impregnate a concubine put into his bed by the oh so helpful Aye, it is obvious that Tut is shooting blanks, and as he lies drifting in and out of consciousness following a chariot accident Aye and Horemheb make a deal for the good of Egypt. Aye is an old man and he just wants his fifteen minutes of fame, to rescue Egypt from weak pharaohs, like Akhenaten and Tut, and restore it to its former glory, so if Horemheb will help him become Pharaoh, he will name Horemheb as his successor then he can have his turn at the throne too. Well, what ambitious man could resist a bargain like that? And soon a one-eyed assassin named Abdul is creeping into the King's bedchamber, planning to bash his brains out with an ebony and stone war club. But the sight of that pathetic seventeen-year-old boy lying there whimpering for his mother in his sleep is such that Abdul can't bear to bash his head in so he strangles him instead.

Naturally, everyone suspects the Queen of murdering her husband. And in the seventy days that follow as Tut's mummification and burial are hastily arranged, Aye plots to force Ankhesenpaaten to marry him since he has no royal blood but she does. The desperate young woman, grieving for her beloved husband, tries to scotch Aye's plan by writing to the King of the Hittites, Egypt's enemy of longstanding, and begging him to send one of his sons to Egypt to be her husband and thus become Pharaoh. But Aye and Horemheb, aided by a spying lady-in-waiting, intercept the Hittite Prince and murder him and his entourage. As a colourful touch, they bring his severed head in a bag to Ankesenpaaten.

At the wedding feast, Aye poisons Ankhesenpaaten, after all, he already has a wife his own age, and now that the crown is his he has no further use for a pretty young teenage bride, and her body is unceremoniously thrown to the Nile crocodiles.

And in a hasty chapter that ties up the loose ends, Horemheb in turn murders Aye and takes the throne for himself and orders the names of his predecessors stricken from the records and erased from the monuments. Oh, and by the way, we learn that Ankhesenpaaten was part of this trio of conspirators who all double-crossed each other. Ankhesenpaaten, James Patterson says without presenting any proof for it, wanted power all for herself. Though, to my mind at least, her plan to marry the Hittite Prince and make him Pharaoh does not show the ancient equivalent of an Elizabeth I in the making.

Alternating between these vivid scenes of Ancient intrigue, James Patterson inserts chapters about Howard Carter and his search for, and eventual discovery of, King Tut's tomb. Curiously, while Patterson doesn't hesitate to take us into the bedrooms of the Ancients, he draws a discreet veil over the relationship between Howard Carter and Lady Evelyn Herbert, daughter of his wealthy mentor, Lord Carnarvon.

If this book had been presented as fiction I might have been more favorably disposed towards it. I don't believe in putting historical fiction under a microscope and nitpicking for accuracy, and after all so little is known about the kings and queens of Ancient Egypt that there is ample room for speculation and opportunity for a novelist to weave and embroider a tale upon the existing framework of known history. But it is not presented as a work of fiction, it is called and categorized as non-fiction. Curiously for a non-fiction book about a period of history that has spawned whole libraries of non-fiction books, both scholarly and popular, it doesn't have a bibliography in back. I wonder why?

In the end, the only good thing I can really say about this book is that it is a swift and somewhat entertaining and interesting read despite its questionable points. The font is of a larger size and the spacing in between generous so it is also gentle on the eyes. And since it is written in a fast-paced and readable style, it just might be a good way to introduce someone to the fascinating world of Egyptology, there is definitely enough here to kindle an interest and desire to learn more.

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