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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

Stolen Souls by Jeffrey Sackett

February 1, 2006

Bantam Books, New York
1987 (pb)

For the next few months I hope to review a few books that archaeology-based thrillers that have been gathering dust on my bookshelf for the last decade or two—books I read before beginning this series of reviews.  I have a general recollection of liking them but none stand out as great works of literary art and I generally do not recall the plots so this will almost be like reading them again for the first time!

The initial entry in this “oldies but goodies” reprise is Jeffrey Sackett’s 1987 horror novel, Stolen Souls.  It is for the most part a well written and well-plotted revisiting of the “Mummy Who Returns to Life” genre.  The fifteenth Earl of Selwyn, a foppish young man not exactly cut from the same cloth as his “for Queen and Country” forebears has just inherited the family fortune, mansion and seven Egyptian mummies of questionable provenience.

The young Earl determines to sell the mummies to a small private college in upstate New York, in part to fulfill a dream he’s cherished since his boyhood—to visit Disney World in Orlando!  His sense of U.S. geography is somewhat lacking and he is profoundly disappointed to find that Orlando is quite some distance from Winthrop College and Greenfield, New York!  But Harriet Langley, a recently minted Ph.D. in Egyptology and the curator of the Winthrop Museum- to-be, is excited to take possession of the ancient bodies that will be the centerpieces of the museum’s small but eclectic collection.

As Harriet conducts a cursory overview of her new acquisitions she is puzzled by the hieroglyphs on the sarcophagi that seem to refer to Anubis, the jackal-headed god of Egyptian mythology as the preeminent god in the pantheon—a reference she has never come across before.  Her ruminations are interrupted by the appearance of Ahmed Hadji, an Egyptian from the Egyptian National Institute of Reclamation.  He demands custody of the mummies, which have, of course, been purchased by the Winthrop College Museum.  The struggle between Hadji and Harriet and her colleagues for ownership of the mummies turns decidedly nasty and before the novel’s conclusion we follow the evil machinations of Hadji, who is in reality a priest in an ancient cult of worshipers of Anubis, as he wantonly kills to protect the secret he carries with him—the arcane knowledge to reanimate the mummies and actually bring Anubis back as a corporeal being.  Harriet is taken hostage by the cultists and spirited away to Upper Egypt for the sinister ritual that will bring Anubis to life.  Harriet’s lover, her college president (!), and the Earl of Selwyn, who has become a more manly man during the course of the novel, take up the chase to save her from the monstrous cult of Anubis.  The final clash takes place in the ancient and deserted desert of Egypt and pits the re-awakened Anubis against a foe equally ancient and hopefully, for the good of Harriet and her friends, is more powerful than the evil Egyptian god.

This is a fun little book to read.  Sackett has created some interesting and even somewhat credible characters.  His plot weaves together some solid Egyptian mythology with a good bit of whimsical horror and never takes itself too seriously.  There’s a good bit of gratuitous gore and some gratuitous sex, but all in all, a good airport novel—I believe that’s where I picked it up back in 1987 or ’88.  It has long been out of print but can still be found listed on Amazon.com and purchased for not much more than it originally sold for in the late 1980s.

Stolen Souls is a fun-filled two-and-half trowel read.