A historical mystery set in the city of Akhetaten.

Publication year: 2006
Format: print
Page count: 443
Publisher: Black Swan

Rahotep is one of the Medjay detectives in Thebes where he lives with his wife and three young daughters. Then he’s commanded to go to Akhetaten and into the king’s court to solve a mystery. He doesn’t know anything about the case but he has to leave his family behind and travel to the new city. Once there, he encounters a hostile chief of police, Mahu, who tells him that the Queen Nefertiti has disappeared. The people already suspect that she has been murdered which is greatly undermining king Akhenaten. Mahu is sceptical of Rahotep’s chances of finding her. Rahotep is given two assistants who know the city but who are clearly spies.

When Rahotep meets the pharaoh, he commands Rahotep to find Nefertiti or Rahotep and his whole family will be killed. Rahotep has to find him in ten days, before the inauguration Festival. During the festival, powerful people will gather to the City of the Horizon and Nefertiti will have to be there by her husband’s side.

However, Rahotep requires authorization to question some of the most powerful men in Egypt, and Nefertiti’s household. She has been missing for five days; Rahotep’s task is far from easy.

Rahotep is pretty usual detective type even though in his own world he’s said to be unconventional because he actually questions witnesses and visits crime scenes rather than judging people by class, wealth, and appearances. This doesn’t make him a popular man; quite the opposite. Unfortunately, to me he was a bit too modern, especially because he doesn’t believe in any of the gods. The story is set during the Great Change in Egypt, when Akenaten has forced people to abandon the old gods and worship only one god, the Sun god Aten. However, Rahotep dismisses them all which sets him apart from the people around him. Well almost – Nefertiti admits at one point that she supported the change just so that the old powerful priest families would be stripped of their powers and to make Egypt at least a little more equitable.

I did like that Rahotep is happily married and is worried about his family. Even Nerfertiti’s legendary beauty doesn’t make him a gibbering fool, which is something I was a bit worried about initially. However, I didn’t feel any personal connection to him.

Akhenaten is shown with two sides: he has a powerful personality and strong vision, even single minded obsession. And yet, his body is weak and he needs a cane to walk. When he appears in public, his frailty is disguised from the common people.

The pace is somewhat slow but this isn’t a thriller. However, a lot of the book seemed to be spent talking about local politics. Incidentally, I’m an Egypt geek so I found it fascinating and wouldn’t have minded more of it, but readers looking for a mystery might be disappointed. There are also some social commentary; Drake makes the point that Akhetaten is an artificial city, built on the backs of the poor laborers with fabulous wealth and miserable poverty side by side. Even the Medjay police are robbers. Yet even the rich constantly fear for their status and even for their lives. Nobody is really enjoying living in the city.

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