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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

The Lost Tomb of Cleopatra by JT Osbourne

June 1, 2019

Self-published:  Lexington, KY
2018 (PB)

For more than 2,000 years the location of the burials of Cleopatra VII and Marc Antony has remained a mystery.  Many highly-skilled Egyptologists, including recently the ubiquitous Zawi Hawass, have sought the queen’s final resting place, and it should come as no surprise that this elusive historical treasure should provide grist for the archaeological fiction mill.

Author JT Osbourne sets the stage for this archaeological thriller in a very workmanlike manner, first introducing the reader in a series of flashbacks to the first century BC Egyptian stonecutter Neferu, who is a key individual in the plot to spirit away the bodies of Cleopatra and Antony from the Romans to the wilderness bordering Egypt and Libya.  He then flashes forward to that same wilderness some 2000 years later as Nazi Lieutenant Karl Muller leads a contingent of soldiers, under orders from Herman Goering, to find the remains of Cleopatra to be included in the planned Fuhrermuseum in Linz.

The reader is then brought into the present and introduced to Brook Burlington, an archaeologist teaching and doing research at West Virginia University, who is obsessed with finding Cleopatra’s tomb, much as her disgraced father, adventurer Cale Burlington, was obsessed with discovering a unified theory of the march of civilization in the ancient world.  On a late Friday night, Brook receives word from her former lover, Egyptologist Ali Rahman that he has discovered evidence that leads him to believe Cleopatra’s tomb is located very near the World War 2 battlefield El Alamein which is on the Egypt/Libya border.  He wants her to join him in Egypt to unearth the long-lost burial– along with grant money and the imprimatur of West Virginia University!

What follows should be an archaeological hunt for an ancient treasure worthy of the efforts of Indiana Jones.  Unfortunately that promise is never quite delivered and the plot gets bogged down with the likes of Russian oligarchs, an antiques collector friend who somehow ends up shooting a documentary of the hunt for Cleopatra, and a hedge fund manager who winds up as an integral part of the expedition, without any apparent applicable background experience or knowledge, after being rescued from Egyptian pirates.  There is little evidence of Brook’s archaeological competence being brought to bear in the search, and when Cleopatra’s tomb is finally discovered (spoiler alert!), it is not because of her training or professional insight, but because she literally falls into a hole in the ground leading to the tomb.

This was the author’s first novel and he promises further adventures of Brook Burlington in the future.  His writing style is not unpleasant and it is obvious that some serious research went into the preparation of this novel, but he needs to clear away the confounding and sometimes confusing sub-plots and to make Brook a more engaging and endearing protagonist.

Two trowels for The Lost Tomb of Cleopatra.