David Gibbins has linked this latest novel to his “The Tiger Warrior” and pulled in Jack’s good friend Hiebermeyer who figured so prominently in “The Mask of Troy”. The novel is actually two stories; both long enough in their own right to mean the modern story of Jack and Costas doesn’t end in the final page, rather we are forced to await the next novel: Pyramid. The modern story revolves around Jack and Costas locating a shipwreck housing the sarcophagus of Pharaoh Menkaure which in turn leads them to the furthest reaches of the Egyptian Kingdom to hunt in the Nile for ancient temples dedicated to Sobek. This takes about one third of the words between the covers; the rest takes us back to the events surrounding the battle of Abu Klea, General Gordon, Sudan and Khartoum in the 1880s. Told from the perspective of one Major Mayne, sharpshooter extraordinaire, we follow the inevitable alternative-conspiracy-theory plot lines that authors of this genre find so necessary. I must say that Gibbins knowledge of the time strongly suggested a fascination beyond that of any research for a novel; a perception backed up by the lengthy author’s note where he gets to show off both his interest and academia of the period. There is clearly indulgence here as some of the sections given over to the 1880s aren’t entirely necessary and smack of an author needing to pad out his text having decided he actually had enough for 1.5 novels. The result is we end with a weary disinterest in the Victorian military machinations and no sense of pathos at the denouement of the Mayne adventure. Still, we do learn a lot about this period of history, though no more, I’d say than we get at the hands of Wilbur Smith in “The Triumph of the Sun”.
I confess I did find myself speed-reading through the 1880s story because the modern narration of Jack and Costas is much more appealing. To that end, I was reluctantly glad to move away from Khartoum and to the heady exhilaration Gibbins produces with his modern pair. In fact I am looking forward to the next novel in this adventure more than I regard the success of this one. If you like Gibbins, then this isn’t bad. Not as good as some of his others, but the next novel might just prove brilliant.