She is Nefertiti-beautiful and revered. With her husband, Akhenaten, she rules over Egypt, the most affluent, formidable, sophisticated empire in the ancient world. But an epic power struggle is afoot, brought on by the royal couple's inauguration of an enlightened new religion and the construction of a magnificent new capital. The priests are stunned by the abrupt forfeiture of their traditional wealth and influence; the people resent the loss of their gods-and the army is enraged by the growing turbulence around them. Then, just days before the festival that will celebrate the new capital, Nefertiti vanishes. Rahotep, the youngest chief detective in the Thebes division, has earned a reputation for his unorthodox yet effective methods. Entrusted by great Akhenaten himself with a most secret investigation, Rahotep has but ten days to find the missing Queen. If he succeeds, he will bask in the warmth of Akhenaten's favor. But if Rahotep fails, he and his entire family will die.
Rai Rehotap, the complex sleuth of this excellent mystery debut from British poet and playwright Drake (The Man in the White Suit), is very much a creature of his time-ancient Egypt-but is possessed of investigative instincts that will be familiar to readers of classic whodunits. The author artfully places his plot during a time of great significance to ancient Egyptian society-the reign of King Akhenaten, whose reforms included an effort to do away with the established religious order, and who consequently evoked the wrath of powerful figures vested in the status quo. The king summons Rehotap to track down the ruler's powerful and charismatic partner, Queen Nefertiti, whose disappearance weeks before a great festival threatens the stability of the new regime. Drake displays great mastery of period detail, and if some readers are able to anticipate the identity of the person behind the novel's chaos, they'll still find themselves swept away to a far-off time with contemporary echoes. (Apr.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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February 25, 2008
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Excerpt from Nefertiti by Nick Drake
I had dreamed of snow. I was lost in a dark place, and snow was falling slowly and silently, each flake a puzzle I could never solve before it disappeared. I awoke with the feeling of its fleeting, cryptic lightness on my face. It made me feel surprisingly sad, as if I had lost something, or someone, for ever.
I lay still for a moment, listening to Tanefert breathing quietly at my side, the heat of the day already rising. I have never seen snow, of course, but I remember reading the report of a box of it carried from the furthest north, like treasure, packed in straw. And one hears the stories brought back from beyond the horizon. A freezing world. Deserts of snow. Rivers of ice. White and weightless, it may be held in the hand if one can endure the pain of its cold fire. Yet it is nothing but water. Water, which cannot be held in the hand. Only its incarnation has been changed, and I believe it changes back again depending on the world in which it finds itself. I also heard that when they finally opened the box, it was empty. This mysterious snow had vanished. Someone no doubt died for the disappointment. Such is treasure.
Maybe this is also death. That is not what we hear from the Priests. We all learned the prayer: 'when the tomb is opened may the body be perfect for the perfect life after life'. But have they seen the heat of the sun god rot and putrefy the charming flesh of the living, the young and the beautiful, with their nonsensical hopes and pointless dreams, into the contorted shapes of horror and monstrosity and petrified agony? Have they seen lovely faces cut apart, holes ripped open through muscle, heads smashed to bony fragments, the strange puckering of burned flesh where the fat has boiled? I doubt it.
Such thoughts are the torment of my work. I, Rahotep, youngest chief detective of the Thebes Medjay division, see my children playing or struggling to concentrate on their musical instruments. And I know their skin, which we caress and kiss, and care for with almond and moringa oils, and perfume with persea and myrrh, and dress with linens and gold, is merely a bag containing organs and bones and jars of blood; the hopes of being alive and in love depend on this butcher's business. I keep this to myself, even when I make love to my wife and for an instant her elegant body as it turns to me by the light of the oil lamp blurs from perfection into death. Apparently this is a rather famous thought. I should be grateful, perhaps, to have such thoughts. I should be more poetic, more philosophical, more often, if only to amuse during my private hours. Well, I have no private hours. And then again, as I stand over yet another corpse, a life--a little history of love and time--ended in a moment of frenzy or hatred or madness or panic, I feel it is the only time I know where in the world I am.
Of course, as Tanefert says whenever she finds the opportunity--which these days is too often--it is typical of me to think the worst of any given situation. But in these impossible times of the reign of Akhenaten I am confronted daily with justifications for this attitude. Things grow worse. I see it in my work: in the ever-increasing numbers of tormented and mutilated bodies of murder victims, and in the robbed and desecrated tombs of the rich and powerful, with the Nubian security guards grinning from ear to ear through their slit throats. I see it in the ostentation of the rich and the endless misery of the poor. I see it in the greater world in the shaking news of the Great Changes: the King's banishment of the Karnak Temple Priesthood from their ancient places and rights; the denial and sometimes the desecration of Amun and all the lesser, older, popular gods; the imposition of the strange new god we are now supposed to celebrate and worship. I see it in the eccentric conception and extravagant expense of the mysterious new temple city of Akhetaten, under construction these last years in the desert, midway between here and Memphis and therefore so deliberately far from everyone. And I see all this imposed upon a perilous economy at a time of turbulence and uncertainty in our Empire. So, indeed, how else should I think? She says it is not normal, and she is right. But I passed through that portal long ago, when I understood that shadows and darkness live inside each one of us, and how little it takes before they leach through the soul and the smile. Death is easy.