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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

The Seventh Scroll by Wilbur Smith

September 1, 2018

St. Martin’s Press:  New York City
1995 (HC)

Wilbur Smith is a South African author whose prolific career has covered more than fifty years and whose works of high adventure and historical fiction (numbering around forty) follow in the literary footsteps of H. Rider Haggard, Talbot Mundy, and more recently James A. Michener.

In 1994, Smith penned a best-selling novel of ancient Egypt entitled River God, which chronicled the adventures of Taita, a remarkable slave of Queen Lostris during the time of the Hyksos conquest of Egypt (c. 1700 BC), and alludes to the secret burials of General Tanus and Pharaoh Mamose in the highlands of modern day Ethiopia.

In his second “Ancient Egyptian Series” novel, Smith flashes forward to the mid-1990s, when Director of the Egyptian Department of Antiquities Duraid al Simma and his young archaeologist wife, Royan, discover and translate seven scrolls of Taita hidden in the recently excavated tomb of Queen Lostris.  The eponymous seventh scroll contains enigmatic clues to the whereabouts of Pharaoh Mamose’s tomb and its incredible cache of grave goods.  One night as Duraid and Royan continue their translating efforts, a vicious attack is leveled on their villa, the seventh scroll is stolen, and Royan desperately tries to allude the attackers.  With Duraid dying in her arms, Royan promises that she will seek the aid of Sir Nicholas Quenton-Harper, an old friend of Duraid’s,  to mount an expedition to unearth the tomb of Mamose.  This approach has become necessary because government funding for the scroll project had just recently, and mysteriously, been cancelled.  The threats against Royal continue unabated, even as she plans to fly to England to re-unite with her English mother (her father had been an Egyptian army officer assigned to Gamal Abdel Nasser) and to meet with Sir Nicholas.  First her Cairo flat is broken into and all documentation pertaining to the seventh scroll, including her laptop, are stolen—fortunately she has retained some of her personal notes so all is not lost; then she is attacked on the streets of Cairo en route to the airport, and later, after meeting with Quenton-Harper, she and her mother are forced off the road and nearly killed.  It is obvious that some very desperate people wish to keep her from hunting for the Pharaoh’s treasure.  But Sir Nicholas, wealthy amateur archaeologist, explorer, scholar and suspected ne’er-do-well, agrees to underwrite the project and to lend personal logistical support to the effort.  Together they fly to Ethiopia, hire a staff, including a dodgy ex-KGB operative as trail guide, and set off on what is ostensibly a hunting safari.  The canny reader will, by this time, realize that not all will go as planned!

What follows is a rollicking tale of adventure as Nicholas and Royan heroically attempt to retrace the footsteps of the slave Taita some 4,000 years in the past.  They encounter the perfidy of the Ethiopian military and police force, which seem to be in the pocket of the ubiquitous Pegasus Exploration Company, a mining firm, that conveniently appears to be hovering around the general area that Nicholas and Royan suspect harbors the hidden tomb.  Pegasus Exploration, utilizing a series of phantom corporations, is ultimately own by one Gotthold von Schiller, a wealthy German industrialist known to have an insatiable hunger for antiquities—and few scruples for attaining them.  Nicholas and Royan face dangers—both natural and man-made—at every turn, and the action never lets up.  Cascading waterfalls; jungle firefights with guerilla bands; diabolical villains almost beyond imagination; an ingenious labyrinth of caverns, festooned with booby-traps set by Taita, that ultimately leads to the fantastic treasures of Pharaoh Mamose (or is it Mamose?)—they’re all here in this fabulous yarn.  Adding to the pleasure of reading this tale of adventure is Wilbur Smith’s mesmerizing gift for describing the awesome beauty as well as the severe harshness of the Africa he so obviously loves.

Four trowels for The Seventh Scroll, but a caution that there may be some scenes of violence and sex that may not be tolerated well by some readers.