The land of Pyramids and Sphinx has ever been the land of stories. Stories which involve the rich tradition of ancient civilization, tomb-robbers (-raiders?), of Pharaoh’s curse, of myriad mysteries whose solutions present still more unanswered questions… The ancient Egypt has always been the source (and destination) of many fiction writers.So, when an accomplished writer like Robin Cook writes about a mystery in Egypt titled “Sphinx”, you do expect it to be a riveting read, though it has nothing “medical” in it.
Starting with the story of a tomb-robber in the reign of Seti I who gets caught while robbing the tomb of Tutankhamen, the story jumps to the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen by Howard Carter. There on, we see a young egyptologist Erica, who comes to Cairo in 80’s before her marriage to prove her independence, and to make some use of her education.
Lost in Cairo, Erica stumbles into an antique shop, where the dealer shows her a beautiful statue of Seti I with some intriguing hieroglyphs on the bottom. Before she can get out, the dealer is brutally killed, and the statue is gone. Bewildered and terrified, she is found by a Frenchman, who tells her he wants to fight the black market in antiquities. Later that day, the Antiquities Minister visits her and asks her help in fighting the black marketeers. Confused, she finds herself the target of the killers, as well as the target of attraction of two completely different men.
After watching a man getting attacked in a mosque, and a man dropping dead near her (literally, he drops on her), she moves to Luxor to talk to the son of the dealer, only to find that he has also followed in the footsteps of his father. There, she finds a document by the architect of Seti’s tomb, in which he boasts that he has used a secret technique to ensure the Pharaoh’s eternal sleep will not be disturbed (read: tomb robbers will not reach his burial chamber). After narrowly escaping another attempt on her life, she is able to decipher the true meaning of the document, thereby solving the mystery of the hieroglyphs and the tomb of Seti I, at the same time helping authorities uncover the black market ring.
As I said, the story has nothing to do with medicine, which is Robin Cook’s forte. But, Egypt is such a rich environment to weave the stories in, and the words Pyramid or Sphinx generate instant mystery. At the same time, these places are a bit overcrowded by fiction. But the book succeeds in that you never feel like you are reading the same old story with different names and places. And, in the true tradition of great mysteries, the solution is easy to guess if you have been keeping an eye out for the clues, but that does not take anything away from the twists at the end.
The first story sets the tone of the mystery, with the architect (after interrogating the thief) saying that he has discovered a successful way to stop the greedy grave-robbers. The statue of Seti I is only second found of the great pharaoh, with a mystery attached to its base. The story continues to show glimpses of the solution throughout, at the same time adding to the suspense, with two (or possibly more) groups of people looking for the statue.
But, therein lies the problem with the story. The story moves from action to action in spurts, the time between spent in the mental agony of Erica. Wanting to prove her independence, and wanting to make others (her mother and her to-be) take her profession as egyptologist seriously, she vacillates between nervousness and fright, wanting to do something heroic (about the smuggling) and being pulled between the three men in her life. The somewhat repetitious nature of her thoughts and actions (and sometimes of the action surrounding her) does make the story drag in the middle.
But still, all that does not make the story any worse that 3.5 on BES. A worthy read if you are a fan of “mystery of the ancient civilization” genre, though be ready to skip some pages sometimes (even though you miss 1/2 inconsequential clues in the process).
Quote of The Day:
People had already settled the islands in the Mediterranean and around Great Britain long before the first pharaoh built the pyramids in Egypt.
– Thor Heyerdahl