Thursday, May 28, 2009

City of Dead:a Lively Whodunit

Well, City of the Dead has more depth to it than I expected. I realized that a book about the Great Pyramid, in a series called The Seven Wonders, would be a historic novel. The title made sense, too, considering that it was dealing with the tomb of the Pharaoh. I even suspected there would be some romance involved. However, it was surprising to me to find myself reading an ancient murder mystery. Yes, a historical murder mystery with romance. Quite a combination, and one that T. L. Higley pulls off quite well.

The narrator is Hemiunu, Grand Vizier under the Pharaoh Khufu, who begins this tale at a time when the pyramid for Khufu is about half-finished and all kinds of problems plague the work as well as Hemi's personal life. The prologue gives a glimpse into a deep secret that Hemi, his brother Ahmose, Khufu, and three others have buried in their hearts since they were all very young. One of their close friends, Amunet, died when they were all out together. The Pharaoh of the time, Khufu's father, commanded them to all keep this a total secret, to never speak of it again, even though the truth behind her death was never investigated or discovered. Hemi never speaks of it, but it is far from buried from his conscience. And so he has nightmares that replay the scenes over and over.

Suddenly, more of that circle of childhood friends are killed. The first is Mentu, Hemi's best friend. He is found in the animal pens cut with a butchering knife and his face covered with an intricately designed gold mask. The gold masks become the murderer's signature. But who is it? And why? Hemi needs to go on about his responsibilities, overseeing the work on the pyramid, yet his heart and mind won't let him rest until he does all possible to find the killer and bring him to justice. In his search, he seems to make more trouble for himself, but the search also leads him to find a remarkable group of people known as the People of the One; a secretive group themselves who believe in one God, not the many that Egyptians follow, a group who seem to have found peace and security that he does not know.

There are many elements of the story that I could write about, but I don't want to make this too long and boring. First of all, it is very obvious that Ms. Higley carried out extensive research. This story brought the period and the culture out of the dust and made it brilliantly alive for me. She successfully puts the reader smack dab in the middle of the building of the Great Pyramid, smoothly merging engineering stuff, social and religious culture, royal intrigue, and the passions of youth. Geographical details of the Nile (complete with hippos and alligators), the canals, Giza, and the desert make us feel like we are there. Then there is the great story, propelled by events in the present, interspersed with glimpses into the past--the day when the lives of six companions were forever bound together and changed. The way she doles out bits and pieces heightens interest. The characters are quite compelling as well, in particular Hemiunu. This young man is constantly striving to bring all things into order (ma'at) and a disdain for chaos. In other words, a neat freak, even compulsively so. He also yearns for the balance of justice and mercy, something he learns much more about once he meets the People of the One.

And I haven't even brought up the romance angle! Oh, this one gets so complicated! It's intrinsic to the whole story, though.

If you like murder mysteries, historical fiction, or romance, this book is one you will enjoy. Check out the previous blog for a book trailer, information about the author, and an excerpt of the prologue and first chapter.

For more information, visit the author's website at

You can buy City of the Dead at many bookstores as well as online at,, and

1 comment:

Laura Davis said...

Great review Cathi. I'll have to keep an eye out for it.