Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Poisoner of Ptah by P.C. Doherty

When three priests are mysteriously poisoned at a ceremony presided over the by Hatusu (Hatshepsut) the Pharaoh, blame is laid at the feet of a notorious poisoner named the Rekhet, who has somehow escaped from the prison camp in the desert where no one has ever managed to escape before.

Sent to find the real poisoner, whoever he or she may be, is Amerotke, the Chief Judge of the Pharaoh. But the deaths of the three priests are only the beginnings of the deaths that follow in the days to come. Next to die are Ipuye, a merchant, and his new wife, Khiat, who died in their enclosure while they were swimming in their lotus pond. The enclosure was guarded, and their are no wounds on their bodies, so how did they die, and how were they killed, unnoticed by the guards?

Following that is the death by poisoning of Hutepa, a heset, or minor priestess at the temple of Ptah. Clutched in her hand was a castanet. She was definitely poisoned, but why? Was it her researches into the Book of Doom, a book of poisons compiled by a famous poisoner named Ari Sapu? Or could there be another reason for her death?

Amerotke must investigate not only the many deaths, but the possible plans of the Libyans. The Ceremony attended by Hatusu was supposed to cement peace with them, but spies have reported movements of men in the desert to the south. Did *they* have something to do with the poisoning, or the escape of the Rekhet? As Amerotke investigates, the list of questions becomes longer and longer. And he is not the only person hunting the escaped Rekhet. Two crimelords are also seeking him for reasons of their own. Can Amerotke find the person or persons responsible for the deaths before the killing begins again?

This is a great series of books. Although the world of Ancient Egypt disappeared many thousands of years ago, I always feel that I am actually there when I am reading P.C. Doherty's books, from the meanest of slums to halls of Hatusu's palace. The characters, too, stand out. Amerotke, Shufoy, his dwarf manservant, Hatusu herself and her lover Senenmut are all vivid personalities.

The mystery is engaging and brings home the horror and personal fear of poison, where anything, literally, can be suspect, from drinks to common items of cosmetics. The solution to the poisoning is an interesting puzzle that Amerotke adroitly solves, as well as finding the true killer of Ipuye and Khiat.

If you enjoy finding a mystery that will make you feel like you are actually taken back in time and to a wildly different place, this book will more than suffice for you. A wonderful read.

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