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"Nefertiti: Book of the Dead" by Nick Drake: Book Review

Updated on October 22, 2014
Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their daughters.
Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their daughters. | Source

Read "Nefertiti: The Book of the Dead"

Introduction

If you search for historical fiction set in ancient Egypt, it's not too surprising to find works centered around Queen Nefertiti. Most of her life remains shrouded in mystery to us, even today. We know she was the pharaoh Akhenaten's Great Royal Wife and that she vanished from historical record before his death. Together, the royal pair ushered in an era of religious upheaval as they pushed Egypt towards monotheism. Thus, her life history is ripe with historical fiction opportunities. “Nefertiti: The Book of the Dead” by Nick Drake attempts to address her disappearance.

Summary

This mystery novel follows the course of Rai Rahotep, an ancient Egyptian police detective from Thebes. The pharaoh Akhenaten himself brings Rahotep to investigate the disappearance of the beloved Queen Nefertiti. The stakes are high for Rahotep as the pharaoh threatens to kill Rahotep's family if he does not succeed.

Remains of a tomb in Armana, the capital of ancient Egypt during Akhenaten's reign.
Remains of a tomb in Armana, the capital of ancient Egypt during Akhenaten's reign. | Source

The Mystery

For me, a mystery book rates bad or good depending on the quality of the mystery. A good mystery keeps me guessing and in suspense the entire length of the book. If you pick up this book for the mystery aspect, you will likely come away disappointed at the end. The book's events occur and play out for you like a theatrical production, but our narrator has little to do with the course of the plot. He, and by extension us, is merely an observer in a time of great upheaval. His journey is not his own, as he is merely dragged along from clue to clue without any real deduction his part.

Rahotep's methods of investigating seem to rely entirely on asking the wrong questions over and over. For example, when he is finally granted an interview with the pharaoh’s mother, he proceeds to ask her inane questions about her grandchildren. It's hard to believe he would have no idea that Akhenaten had other wives and children. His questions are so bad that the other character's even mention it time and time again.

Additionally, this book does not spare you some unpleasant images of dead bodies as it does lean a bit towards the gross side. It's not as gruesome as some mystery books, but this definitely not Nancy Drew. Also, poor Queen Tiye, who was in her own right quite the powerful woman, is reduced to a disgusting hag whose very description will make your stomach turn. Historically, poor Tiye was also likely already dead two years before Nefertiti's disappearance.

Nefertiti's famous statue in the Neues Museum, Berlin.
Nefertiti's famous statue in the Neues Museum, Berlin. | Source

The Historical Fiction

If you select this book due to an interest in ancient Egypt, I think you'll be mostly satisfied with your selection. The book's descriptions are rich and engrossing, without becoming too stuffy. While reading the novel, you can very easily imagine ancient Egypt. Based on the descriptions, it's quite clear that Drake spent some time researching this period of Egypt, though not without some errors. For example, the book mentions Nefertiti's daughters wearing the male-only side lock hairstyle. In addition, this book does suffer from some modern-day anachronisms. The police station and staff bear striking similarity to a modern day police force. You'll even notice the police offers indulging on ancient Egyptian doughnuts. Who knew ancient Thebes was home to the first Krispy Kreme? The book also includes words that are out of place, such as “bravura,” an Italian word and “villa,” a Roman term.

Read "Nefertiti: The Book of the Dead"

Conclusion

"Nefertiti: The Book of the Dead" is a quick read from beginning to end, making it a good read for a summer weekend. If you enjoy ancient Egypt but don't care too much about a good mystery, you'll likely enjoy this book's rich descriptions. If, however, you prefer the substance of a solid thriller with some nice ancient dressings on the side, you'll probably find yourself skimming through the pages rather quickly. The mystery unfortunately becomes bogged down by unnecessary details, greatly slowing down the pace of the action. If you do find yourself a fan of this book, you're in luck as the author has written two sequels for your enjoyment.

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