Monday, July 30, 2012

Tut as a Telenovela

Title: The Murder of King Tut:The Plot to Kill the Child King - A Nonfiction Thriller
Author: James Patterson & Martin Dugard
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 978-0316034043
Pages: 352

I have loved all things Egypt since I was in elementary school. I read all the school library books, did reports on mummification and the afterlife and as an adult, I've visited Egypt, the pyramids, the Valley of the Kings etc. I was in awe at the King Tut exhibit in the Cairo museum, as I think are most people. The gold death mask gleamed in the bright lights and the smooth, child-like face of the boy-king was haunting.

I was trolling through the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium Digital books and happened to stumble on Patterson's King Tut mystery. Now, I'm not much of a mystery reader, but I recognized his name. This will be good, I thought. Too bad that wasn't true. As fascinated as I am by all things Egypt, I had a tough time making it through this book.

The story takes place in three time periods – Ancient Egypt, early 1900s and Howard Carter's life, and modern times Florida in Patterson's office. Patterson book-ends Tutankhamen and Carter's stories with his own writing and research of their times, which is quite jolting. As for King Tut, he backtracks to grandfather, King Amenhotep III, who, according to Patterson, dreaded installing to the throne the “abomination” of Tut's father, Akhenaten, first known as Amenhotep IV. Akenaten, along with Nefertiti, brought a monotheistic view of religion to the Egyptian pantheon with the worship of Aten and moving the royal center to Akhetaten, at the site known today as Amarna. Patterson contends that there was great in-fighting for the throne, with many considering Akenaten a traitor to Egypt because of his lack of interest in conquest and traditional religious rites. With his death, Tutankhamen was made Pharaoh, which was cemented with his marriage to his half-sister, Ankhesenpaaten. Patterson's portrayal of the royal intrigue rivals any daytime soap-opera, with backstabbing and steamy sex included.

Carter's life is portrayed as one of unfulfilled ambition. His taste for Egypt was instilled by hanging out at the mansion of the wealthy Amherst family, Didlington Hall. Carter hired on to be a sketch artist in Egypt, a trade learned from his father. While there, Carter dreamt of finding the elusive Tut's tomb. Carter's career rose and fell with his ability to secure funding, and the whims of the British/Egyptian diplomacy, but eventually he did find the tomb. A few years after cataloging the find (which took several years), Carter died in 1939 a lonely man in English, attended by few.

Patterson boasts about the amount of research conducted by his partner,Martin Dugard, but there seems to be a lot of speculating and fictionalizing in this book. It is sub-titled “A Non-fiction Thriller” which definitely is a misnomer – it was mostly fiction and decidedly not a thriller. The short, choppy chapters were frustrating and the constant time-change was distracting.

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