Queen Nefertiti has been dead for 11 years when the final volume of Robinson’s trilogy opens, but the mortality rate continues high among those who might have the slightest clue about her murder. The latest statistic is Satet, sister of the Queen’s late poisoner. But her death brings Lord Meren, the Eyes and Ears of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun, no closer to understanding who ordered Nefertiti’s killing. And for a long time, it seems to bring the story no closer either, as Meren languishes from his wounding by an assassin’s knife, leaving Robinson to provide first conscientious summaries and flashbacks, then fruitless interrogations—informative stuff about the struggle between the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten and his survivors over the deity whose patronage will control Egypt, certainly, but nothing that moves Meren’s inquiries forward. But all this delay isn’t enough for the criminal mastermind (Syrian weapons dealer Dilalu? Asiatic merchant Zulaya? parvenu courtiers Pendua or Usermontu?) who has Meren’s daughter Bener kidnapped and his adopted son Kysen poisoned in order to derail his investigation for good. Fighting back with renewed energy, Meren recalls a single telltale discrepancy—not much for a detective of his proven caliber—in time to close out the murder of Egypt’s only female pharaoh in a fine frenzy of action.
Required reading for veterans of the earlier volumes (Eater of Souls, 1997; Drinker of Blood, 1998) but stocked with enough exposition to stand alone. Still, the puzzle is perfunctory, the suspects shadowy, the hero distracted throughout, and the whole enterprise disappointingly anticlimactic.