The Spies Of Sobeck by Paul Doherty

Sobeck1477 BC, Ancient Egypt – well, Egypt, the date implies the “Ancient” bit, doesn’t it? Sorry, digressed a bit there. Right, start again.

1477 BC, Egypt, and Pharaoh Hatusu returns to Thebes only find rumbling of danger from neighbouring Nubia. The Arites, a cult from that land, are waging a war against the Pharaoh’s  men, appearing and disappearing at will, leaving their victims strangled with a red cloth tied around their necks. Imhotep, a former chief scout for the Spies of Sobeck, a band loyal to the Pharoah, has been investigating the Arites, but is found locked inside his sanctum, strangled by the trademark cloth, with no sign of a struggle.

Chief Judge Amerotke is charged with restoring the peace – the main step towards which will be unmasking the Sgeru, the leader of the Arites. But things are different this time – the Sgeru knows the threat that Amerotke poses, and no one that the judge cares about is safe from their wrath.

The last in the Amerotke series – seven books set in the reign of Queen Hatusu. It’s not my favourite of Paul Doherty’s many series, probably as I have more difficulty envisaging the more alien world of Egypt as opposed to medieval England, but there have been some very strong books in the series.

This time, Doherty basically throws everything into the narrative – a locked room mystery (although a fairly simple one), multiple additional murders, intrigue, a cult with an unknown leader. The problem here is the page count.

With so many ideas here, it could do with an extra 100 pages or so to develop the threat of the Arites and some of the suspects. There’s so much potential in the tale, especially as the overall solution is more complex than might first be suspected. But the identity of the Sgeru is very guessable due to a certain action, and the solution to the locked room (well, for the most part) was the first thing that came to mind to me.

It’s a shame as well that the book ends on something of a cliff-hanger given that this is the last so far. Paul has mentioned another trip to Egypt on his website (although not recently) but I should say that this is a complete story – it’s just a hint of things to come, but they are things that I want to read about.

As ever, the detail about the ancient world is impeccably brought to life, with some of the rituals – especially the punishments for criminals – being exceptionally vividly (and horribly) detailed. It’s definitely Recommended but with a longer page count, this could have been outstanding.


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