Thursday, February 12, 2015


THE ANUBIS SLAYINGS by PC Doherty (Headline, 2001)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Paul (PC) Doherty is the author of several acclaimed historic mystery series, including the Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan, the Hugh Corbett Medieval Mysteries, and the Canterbury Tales of Mystery and Murder. He has also written series set in the days of Ancient Rome and Alexander the Great. The history-loving headmaster has been prolific in his mystery writing, setting multiple series in many diverse moments and fascinating eras throughout history. Unlike many historical mystery authors, Doherty doesn't concentrate on one particular location and time period - instead researching and setting mystery tales in many. He has written more than 75 novels, under a variety of names.

With the Ancient Egypt Mysteries, Doherty takes murder mysteries even further into the past than his medieval tales. In a total of seven books (Doherty has also written another three separate novels set in Ancient Egypt), the Ancient Egypt mysteries centre on the various investigations of Lord Amerotke, wise and trusted judge and adviser to powerful female Pharoah Hatusu. I was introduced to Doherty's Ancient Egypt Mysteries while travelling through Egypt; in fact, I picked up a copy of THE ANUBIS SLAYINGS, the third book in the series, while visiting Luxor (the modern-day site of historic Thebes - one of the locations in the series).

In THE ANUBIS SLAYINGS, a series of grisly slayings ignite passions in Pharoah's Egypt. It begins in the temple of Anubis, the jackal-headed God of mummification and guardian of the afterlife. With the hated but humbled Mitanni camped outside Thebes, preparing to prostrate themselves before Hatusu, few things could be worse for Egypt's bargaining position during the peace negotiations than a series of sensational murders right in the inner sanctum of its most heavily guarded temple. Except perhaps the daring theft of its most treasured national treasure. Or maybe the mysterious death of several Mitanni ambassadors who'd been assured Pharaoh's divine protection...

Are the killings the work of humans or has Anubis himself come to earth intent on disrupting Pharoah's plans? Hatusu turns to Amerotke to sort through the tangle of intrigue that surrounds the killings and discover the truth. Amerotke finds himself surrounded by intrigue, and then he himself becomes a target of the unknown killer. But how can he protect himself from someone or something that seemingly appears from, and disappears into, thin air - like a God?

Doherty creates an enjoyable and intriguing murder mystery within a particularly well-evoked setting. He uses lively and fascinating details to bring Ancient Egypt to life. Having travelled through the ruins and remains of many of the sites mentioned in THE ANUBIS SLAYINGS, and having learned quite a lot about the Ancient Egyptian Kingdoms, the hieroglyphics, gods, traditions, etc, I was impressed by not only the accuracy of the 'world' Doherty creates, but the way he weaves history into his fictional murder mystery, without overwhelming the reader or smothering the tension and progress of the plot. He uses details to bring the story vividly to life, and although there are moments when his writing slightly veers towards being a little bit of a history lesson, it always remains fascinating, and doesn't take away from Amerotke's hunt for the culprit behind the killings.

Amerotke himself is an intriguing protagonist; we're first introduced to the Pharoah's judge while he is sentencing a criminal to a particularly vicious (if deserved) death, but then at other times he also shows compassion and mercy. He is alternately trusted and shut out by Hatusu, and never quite knows what is going on with all the political goings-on behind the scenes, but forges ahead anyway, doing his best to catch the killer and find the truth. There is plenty of corruption, plotting, and intrigue - and Doherty achieves that wonderful authorial art of weaving an engrossing story in a world that on the surface seems completely unlike our own - exotic, strange, and alluring - while at the same time being more than a little familiar. The universality of human emotions, motivations, and actions - we find that underneath all the fashionable trappings of the time, there may not have been that many differences between our modern lives and ancient times.

THE ANUBIS SLAYINGS provides crime fiction fans with something different from the masses of other mysteries on the shelves, while still delivering plenty of what they love about such stories. It was the first of Doherty's Ancient Egypt series I read, but it certainly won't be the last.



Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned journalist from New Zealand who writes reviews and features about crime fiction for many magazines, newspapers, and websites around the world. He has discussed crime writing both at book festivals and on radio, is the creator and Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Award, and the founder and editor of Crime Watch. 


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