A Curse of Silence: A Mystery of Ancient Egypt
This is the fourth of Lauren Haney’s Lieutenant Bak series. A rumor sweeps down the Nile, from Kemet to Wawat: Queen Hatshepsut plans to disband her frontier army and transform fortresses into warehouses. The proposed cost-cutting maneuver will be a disaster for the Wawat. Troops are necessary to hold back the warlike desert nomads from the towns and farms that have grown up along the river. Amonked, a kinsman of the Queen, arrives with a delegation to study the proposal. The local people fear his report will leave them without protection, and so Amonked finds himself a popular visitor. When a well-liked local prince is found slain in a house where Amonked’s party has rested, suspicion immediately lights upon the outsiders. Lieutenant Bak, searching for the murderer, joins their caravan as it travels south.
The setting, eighteenth-dynasty Egypt, is, in a word, authentic. Each scene has a dusty, low-tech taste and feel. I admired the author’s easy familiarity with her sympathetic inspector as well as the colorful and mostly unromanticized descriptions of homes, marketplaces and towns. That said, I felt the solution was overlong in arriving. Despite all the evocative description and traditional cast of red herring suspects, there was a sense that the old Agatha Christie form was starting to chafe the sides of this talented author.