Returning from the dead for yet another encore, two headline-making names, boy king Tutankhamen and megaselling Robbins, partnered once again by living collaborator Podrug, power another case for antiquities investigator Madison Dupre.
All right, “power” may not be the most exact word for this shrill, inept thriller. To be sure, Madison, tossed out of her cushy curatorial post at New York’s Piedmont Museum after a spot of high-profile trouble (The Looters, 2007, etc.) and forced to live from one freelance check to the next, takes it very seriously indeed when someone shows up at her apartment door and tries to kill her. But well-informed readers already know that Fatima Sari’s heart isn’t in the job she’s taken on for the evil mastermind codenamed Sphinx; after all, the weapon is a letter opener, she wields it with little conviction and soon after her failed attempt at murder she’s thrown herself under the wheels of a subway, leaving the heroine, who witnesses her death, to wonder why Dr. Mounir Kassem has hand-picked Madison to authenticate the Heart of Egypt, a scarab Sir Jacob Radcliff looted from King Tut’s tomb back in 1922. Now that the scarab’s been stolen from the Radcliff collection and held for ransom, its owners, if that’s what you want to call them, need to make sure they’re paying for the real thing and not a counterfeit executed by Jeremy Botwell or Quintin Rees. Desperate for cash, Madison signs on and flies to Cairo, where Egyptian police officer Rafi al Din, whose daughter Dalila is dying of leukemia, promptly confiscates her passport and takes her to bed. There’ll be more featherweight adventures, confrontations, double-crosses, revelations, couplings and triplings, but zero atmosphere or sense of place as the characters hurtle from one picture-postcard location to the next.
Madison’s summary nails it: “Murder, madness, and greed swirled around me like a Mojave dust devil.” You go, girl.