The author of The Frenchwoman (1989) and The Queen's War (1991) again imaginatively (but responsibly, judiciously) samples French history and here constructs a witty, lightly satirical, entertaining amalgam of murder, greed, and revenge, all peculiarly attached to a kind of treasure hunt for an ancient Egyptian stela-- a slab of stone picturing the goddess Hathor (appropriately, the goddess of love and laughter). The story takes place in 1798 Cairo, during Napoleon Bonaparte's occupation of Egypt, with millennia-spanning stela- sightings in the fourth century b.c. and the fourth century a.d. At the start, Napoleon, glory-bound, is headed for Egypt, bringing along with his army a team of scholars to record the (generally unknown) history of Egypt and to find and claim its artifacts. Chief among the prizes is a stela thought to have once been owned by Alexander the Great. The panel, intended for a royal tomb, has a unique history: In 3737 b.c., a dying pharaoh had been robbed of immortality as the slab of stone destined to bear his name beside the image of the goddess Hathor (who would rescue him from death) was hidden by his nasty son-in-law. The pharaoh's daughter took revenge by means of a drink spiked with ground glass--a libation identical to one used in Napoleon's coffee during a dinner in Cairo. Luckily, the General refuses the drink, but a sheik's nephew dies. A young French couple, the Verdiers, banished to a temporary prison as suspects, ponder in Nick-and-Nora fashion: Who would try to knock off Napoleon? Meanwhile, there's a stela-hunt afoot. Among the hunters: a stone-eyed collector, Napoleon's doctor; the fiery Turkish widow of the sheik's nephew; a Turkish sheik hoping to bribe the fatuous collector Lord Elgin; Lord Elgin himself; and the Verdiers, hoping to return to Napoleon's good graces. There'll be night journeys, betrayals large and small, spying and mayhem. All this during the Nile's flooding, a ``season of charms and spells.'' A richly intelligent and charming spellbinder.