Published in 2002, The Egyptologist is the second novel by smarty pants Arthur Phillips. There are good ideas in this book but the whole thing sort of implodes in on itself less than halfway in. The main action occurs during his Tut excavation; Howard Carter's a minor character.

This book is an epistolary historical fiction that's meant to be a mystery. As anyone who's ever read all of Dracula can tell you, this is not the best way to tell a story. The astute reader will invariably figure out the plot long before the characters drown in clues

The plot involves murder, multiple missing persons, con artists and ancient Egyptian erotica. Sounds great, right? All is revealed primarily through the letters of two principal characters: one writing several decades after the action. 

Being familiar with unreliable narrators is necessary to make sense of it all achingly early on, but even if one has never read any "complex fiction" before, things should become clear pretty quick.

But back to that plot: an Australian is asked about a case he "solved" back in his glory days. The Aussie writes several letters to the inquirer (the nephew of the former fiancée of someone he had to track down) which are alternated with letters and journal entries from the person he tracked down (who is, in fact, an egyptologist). The latter of which ruins the whole thing. If the book was written entirely in the voice of the former without the decades in between the telling and the happening, then this book would be okay. Instead the annoyingly stilted, pompous and plodding voice of the egyptologist bogs the whole thing down. 

To make it even worse, the detective doesn't really solve his case at all!   

The editors of this book must have been intimidated by the fact that Phillips won Jeopardy five times (in addition to being a Harvard grad, but that's not quite as impressive) and thus cut out too much of the extraneousness in this 400+ page doorstop. The book is billed as an "international bestseller" which was placed on several "year's best" lists. What that means is that the publisher printed too many copies and did a better job promoting the shit out of this shit then Phillips did pacing his plot. The last 80 pages were tortorous; I kept at it as I needed that confirmation that what I thought would happen did happen.

After I finished reading this awful book, I tried to sell it. See, I had a nice, harback copy but the local bookshop wouldn't take it. They had too many paperbacks already. Multiple brand-new copies of this book (shipping included, via Amazon.com) may be had for less than the price of lunch.

So if you see this book lying around a used book shop, only buy it if you need something to help you sleep on an airplane. There are a few exciting parts that will keep you awake while you wait for your flight and then the book will switch to the insufferably boring voice and you'll soon be fast asleep once your plane is in the air. 

If you really want a some rivetting Egyptian fiction, go hunt down Joe Lansdale's Bubba Ho-tep.

The other books by Arthur Phillips look like they might be better—one about Shakespeare and King Arthur and hoaxes. I might give him another chance to redeem himself.

The author's website does have some interesting Egypt related links.

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