Friday, January 20, 2006

Year of the Hyenas : A Novel of Murder in Ancient Egypt


by Brad Geagley

"Year of the Hyenas is a brilliant, original, and unique murder mystery, set in ancient Egypt at the height of that kingdom's glory and power. It is at once a strikingly insightful portrait of a mysterious, complex, and sophisticated society, reminiscent of Norman Mailer's Ancient Evenings in its wonderful detail and feel for the past, and a fast-paced detective story that reads like the best of twenty-first-century thrillers. From the oldest known court transcripts in history, Egyptologists have long known about the mysterious death of Ramses III, involving intrigue, ambition, greed, and crimes of passion on a huge, though hidden, scale. In Year of the Hyenas, Brad Geagley takes this event -- a struggle that nearly brought ancient Egypt to its knees -- as the backdrop for a story that is every bit as captivating as the distant civilization it resurrects. At the heart of the novel is Semerket, the so-called Clerk of Investigations and Secrets, a detective half-paralyzed by problems of his own, with a reputation for heavy drinking and tactless behavior toward the great, the powerful, and the holy, a kind of Sam Spade of the ancient world, deeply (and dangerously) addicted to the truth. Hard-bitten, deeply flawed, he is retained by the authorities to investigate what is considered an insignificant murder of an elderly, insignificant Theban priestess. They fail to inform him, however, that they don't expect him to solve the case. In fact, they don't want him to. But Semerket is not so easily fooled, and this is hardly an ""insignificant"" murder. As he delves deeper for the elusive truth, he uncovers a web of corruption so vast that it threatens the life of the last great Pharaoh, Ramses III, and the stability of the kingdom. Even worse, uncovering the conspiracy means more than just putting his own life on the line -- for, unbeknownst to Semerket, his adored ex-wife Naia has fallen afoul of those who would bring down the reign of Ramses, and he soon finds himself having to choose between saving her and saving Egypt.... Merging historical fact and speculation with a nail-biting crime story that could be taking place in the present, Year of the Hyenas is a riveting and remarkable achievement. "

I found the first few paragraphs so well written and vividly descriptive that I was hooked already! Excerpt from Chapter 1: "Hetephras limped from her pallet to the door of her house like an old arthritic monkey. She pulled aside the linen curtain and squinted to the east. Scents of the unfurling day met her nostrils. Sour emmer wheat from the temple fields. The subtler aroma of new-cut barley. Distant Nile water, brown-rich and brackish. And even at this early hour, someone fried onions for the Osiris Feast.

The old priestess's eyes were almost entirely opaque now. Though a physician had offered to restore her sight with his needle treatment, Hetephras was content to view the world through the tawny clouds with which the gods had afflicted her; in exchange they had endowed her other senses with greater clarity. Out of timeworn habit she raised her head again to the east, and for a moment imagined that she saw the beacon fires burning in Amun's Great Temple far across the river. But the curtains fell across her sight again, as they always did, and the flames burnt themselves out.

She pitied herself for a moment, because as priestess in the Place of Truth she could no longer clearly view the treasures wrought in her village -- decorations for the tombs of pharaohs, queens, and nobles that were the sole industry of her village of artists; pieces that lived for a smattering of days in the light of the sun, then were borne to the Great Place, brought into the tomb, and sealed beneath the sand and rock in darkness forever.

Hetephras unbent her thin, bony spine, firmly banishing self-pity. She was priestess and had to perform the inauguration rites for the Feast of Osiris that morning. At Osiris Time, the hour for speaking with the gods was at the very moment when the sun rose, for it was then that the membrane separating this life and the next was at its most fragile, when the dead left their vaults to gaze upon the distant living city of Thebes, girded for festival.

Though she had been a priestess for over twenty years, Hetephras had never seen any shape or spirit among the dead, as others said they had. She was an unsubtle woman who took her joy from the simple verities of ritual, tradition, and work. She believed with all her heart the stories of the gods, and put it down to a fault in herself that never once had they revealed themselves to her. Her husband, Djutmose, had been the spiritual one in the family, having been the tomb-makers' priest when he married her. When he died in the eleventh year of Pharaoh's reign, the villagers chose Hetephras to continue his duties; they had seen no reason to search elsewhere.

Hetephras sighed. That was many years ago. Soon her own Day of Pain would come, as it must to all living things, and she would be taken to lie beside Djutmose and their son in their own small tomb. Perhaps it was only the morning breezes that made her shiver."

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