This fourth Lord Meren historical mystery has a little bit different structure than the previous books. While before the plot has centered around solving the main mystery, this time there is more emphasize on court intrigue and there’s also a continuous plotline from the previous book. The latter isn’t resolved in this book either.
Someone, or something, is killing people in Memphis in a gruesome way: digging out the heart and leaving a feather in its place. The first victim was a peasant man and the second a tavern woman. However, the chief of Memphis’ watchmen, Sokar, is too busy with much more pressing matters to even report the deaths. He considers the victims to be of no importance and therefore the crimes against them to also be of no importance.
Meanwhile, lord Meren, the Eyes and Ears of the fourteen-years-old pharaoh Tutankhamun, is brooding over the facts he found out a few weeks earlier. Someone, or more likely a group of powerful people, murdered Nefertiti who was Chief Queen to the previous pharaoh Akhenaten. These people are likely still in power and don’t want Meren to start digging into the affair. However, both Meren’s internal sense of justice and his guilt over “letting” Akhenaten to be killed, are urging him to bring the Queen’s killers to justice. So, he continues to slowly and carefully find the people who were closest to the Queen; her most intimate servants. Unfortunately, some of them have moved and others have died.
Meren is even more aggravated when the pharaoh commands him to get to know the newest young noble who is making waves in Memphis: lord Reshep. Instantly, Meren despises the self-important and arrogant young man who seems to think that he is the equal of lord Meren himself. Much to Meren’s disgust his youngest daughter, Isis, is instantly infatuated with the young lord.
An arrogant Hittite emissary has also come to Memphis and Meren is almost certain that he wants to provoke a war between Egypt and the Hittites. However, shortly after seeing the pharaoh, the emissary is murdered. His heart has been removed and a feather left in its place. Meren is, of course, in charge of the investigation which must produce the killer quickly before the hot-blooded Hittites leave and take with them a message of war to the Hittite king. Meanwhile, the people of Memphis are afraid that Ammut, the Eater of Souls, has come on Earth and is killing the bad people even before their heart can be weighted against the feather of Maat.
Robinson brings here a somewhat larger cast of characters than previously and the book is better for it. After the events in the previous book lord Meren has brought his two daughters back from the countryside where they have been staying for some months. Now he has the dubious joy of being father to two head-strong, teenaged girls. Even though people during the Ancient times didn’t have the concept of being teenaged, they still went through the stage of starting to cope with adult responsibilities and also the awaking sexual desires. Meren isn’t happy about that at all. His eldest daughter Bener is a practical and calm girl while her sister Isis is obsessed with her looks and is also quite self-centered. However, Bener is also intelligent and curious and wants to be included in Meren’s police business even though that is not appropriate for a woman.
There’s also the chief of the watchmen Sokat who only thinks of what he can gain for himself and Tcha, a thief who tries his best to not become the Ammut’s next victim by getting every available amulet and even smearing himself with honey. There’s Ese, a woman who has managed to rise into some wealth and independence in a world ruled by men and there are also Greek pirates.
This time we also get short point-of-view flashes from the Eater of Souls and there’s also brief narrations from another character who was introduced quite late in the story. All of these combine to make a change to Robinson’s style and I think it has only improved.
My only complaint is the choice of the main threat. In Ancient Egyptian lore Ammut is the one who eats the hearts of the evil doers. In essence she is actually a good goddess who protects the innocent from the evil ones. So, I was a bit puzzled as to why so many people were then deathly afraid of being killed by her. Would the medieval Christians have been afraid if they thought that archangel Michael was walking among them and killing evildoers? (I know, that’s actually a bad analogy.) Then again the first two victims weren’t that evil by society’s standards.
But an enjoyable tale and I’ll be looking forward to the next one.