The ever-prolific James Patterson dabbles in ancient history to speculate on the cause of death of King Tutankhamun and a possible conspiracy of assassination. Interspersed with this tale is an account of Egyptologist Howard Carter’s hunt for Tut’s tomb and eventual discovery in 1922. Patterson also writes about his own fascination with the boy-king.
Overall I found this to be an engaging book. I enjoyed the interplay of Tut and Carter’s tales. I really enjoyed the Carter storyline in particular and it inspired me to learn more about him. It seems that Patterson’s portrayal of an arrogant, stubborn, often-desperate man who made his most celebrated discovery largely through accident rings true in many respects. Carter is contrasted against the main story of Tut, a boy thrust into kingship–and with it living godhood–who tries to conquer his insecurities and rule wisely, but sadly never realizes he’s trying to impress people he can’t trust.
I do have a few issues with the book though. The first is that I’m not really sure why Patterson wrote himself into it. Those passages are rather sparse to begin with, and in them he almost pointedly does nothing of any interest or importance. The intent seems to be that we see him taking a break from writing the book we’re reading, but in practice there isn’t any real purpose to them except to pad the page count. He keeps talking about all the research that went into the book, but we never see him doing that; nor does he offer a single source or footnote.
The second issue I have is a content problem. Patterson puts some jarring elements into the story that seemingly undo previous chapters. For example, he spends time on Tut and his wife during their wedding night, firmly establishing that they are teenagers and conveying the apprehension and passion between them before politely “panning away”. This is immediately followed with a chapter that takes place a few months later and features the same characters having a fairly graphic sex scene! It’s not the content that really bothered me, but the sudden change in tone and content were more than a little unsettling. It seemed as though he decided right in between those chapters that a PG rating wouldn’t suffice and he needed to make the book a hard R.
Finally, the book has an epilogue where Patterson offers “closing statements”, summing up his case for King Tut’s murder and the likely conspiracy. In doing so, he draws conclusions regarding Tut’s wife that quite simply are not in the book! He states them very frankly and matter-of-fact as though he’s spent a great deal of time on it, and they just aren’t there at all. What he says he wrote and what he actually wrote are simply two different things.
While I did enjoy the book overall, some of these issues make me unsure about the publisher claim that this is nonfiction. With the lack of sources it’s tough to say how much of Patterson’s findings are actually original or might be disputed, and it’s presented like one of his crime thrillers rather than a book of well-researched history. It’s not a bad book to kick back with, but kick back with it as the historical fiction book that it seems to actually be.