Monday, March 08, 2010

The Spies of Sobeck by P.C. Doherty

When Pharaoh Hatusu returns from a trip up the Nile, she is nearly assassinated on her return by a group of Nubian cultists called the Arites. When Pharaoh's father Tuthmosis conquered the Nubians, many of them worshipped the Hyena goddess, Sgeru. Tuthmosis beat back the Arites and destroyed their leaders, or so he thought. He allowed the Arite cultists to withdraw into their great stronghold, for their power was broken.

For many years, the Arites have been thought dead, but now that they have been caught in an assassination attempt on Pharaoh Hatusu, she demands that her chief Judge, Amerotke, bring those responsible to justice. Amerotke interrogates the single Arites who is willing to talk, but even then, he feels that the man is lying in everything he says, but at the moment, he can't prove anything like that.

So he has the man imprisoned in the Temple of Nubia, because the High Priest there is the only Nubian Hatusu trusts at the moment. The Priest, Khufu, struck down the man who actually got closest to killing Pharoah and interposed his own body between them.

But soon after the betraying soldier is imprisoned there, he falls dead, the killing cloth of the Arites wrapped around his throat. Word has also come of the death of another, Imothep, former soldier in the Spies of Sobeck, who were instrumental in overcoming the Arites in the battle with Tuthmosis, Pharoah's father. And both Amerotke and another court official are threatened with being next on the list of deaths.

As Amerotke investigates Imothep's death, which occurred inside a locked and barred room, he has to discover how the assassins who killed him got inside- and the identity of a man found weeks before in Imothep's garden- dead and missing both hands at the wrists.

But even as Amerotke's house comes under attack by the Arites, sent by their leader, named after their Goddess, Sgeru, he discovers that traitors among the Arites *do* exist, although they are very rare due to their habit of being killed by their former comrades.

Amerotke interviews the single sole living survivor of such traitors, a man known to the Criminal underworld as "Mongoose" for his cunning and ability to cheat the death dealt to Arite traitors. And he tells Amerotke that the Sgeru is here, in Thebes. But can Amerotke solve the killings and unmask the Sgeru, the last living member of the Nubian royal family, who also holds the gold chain that is the sign of the Goddess? And for that matter, how are the members of the Medjays being killed? Amerotke needs to unravel that as well, along with the Murder of Imothep.

But can Amerotke discover who the traitors are and bring them to justice before Pharoah can be killed by another set of the Sgeru's assassins? And where are the Arites hiding?

This was a very suspenseful book, as the Arites seem to be everywhere. Pharoah is under much stress here. Her Nubian guards are supposed to be the most loyal and most trusted of all her troops, and yet, until she finds out who the Arites among their members are, she can't trust any of them- a fact which will undermine the loyalty of those among them who *are* loyal to her.

The Arites are a slippery foe. Not only do they foment rebellion against Hatusu in Egypt, but since they are Nubian, they can blackmail and put pressure on the Nubians in Thebes by threatening their relatives back in Nubia, where the Arites are based.

Some of the conclusions aren't that hard to reach- I knew how the Medjays were being poisoned right after the opening of the book- it's not hard to reach the conclusion I did. But the rest of them, including the "Locked room" mystery of Imothep's death- well, it wasn't hard to figure how it was done, but who was more of a problem. I also figured out who the Sgeru was due to the character's unusual prominence in the story, but the book ends on an uncertain note. The Sgeru is unmasked and heading for death, but others remain to carry on the same work. Obviously, they will continue to be foes in the coming books.

I really enjoyed this book, and most especially the setting. There are few books set in Ancient Egypt. The only two I know of are the Lieutenant Bak series by Lauren Haney and "Death Comes As the End" by Agatha Christie, a stand-alone story. This is the seventh book in the series and I hope many more are to follow. Highly recommended.

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