Doubleday: New York City
Life after death is a thread common to many of the world’s religions, past and present. In Egyptian mythology, Isis reassembled the butchered remains of her husband/brother Osiris and transformed him into the god of the underworld. The mummification of people and animals, and the presence of grave goods in tombs of the deceased, may in part be traced back to this mythology and may have influenced the ancient Egyptians to direct so much of their energies—some would say obsess—on the subject of death and the after-life.
It is this theme that Lincoln Child (one half of the prolific thriller-writing partnership of Preston and Child) explores in this solo effort.
Ethan Rush, a very successful and highly respected anesthesiologist, nearly loses his wife after a horrific auto accident. Despite her life signs flat lining for almost a quarter of an hour, she is brought back to life, and because of this traumatic episode, Rush focuses his research efforts on the subject of near-death experiences and establishes the Center for Transmortality Studies (CTS) in rural Connecticut. Rush enlists an old acquaintance and classmate at Johns Hopkins University, Jeremy Logan—a professor of Medieval Studies at Yale and a free-lance and self-styled “enigmologist”—to join him on a great adventure that requires his unique gifts in investigating the arcane and cryptic.
The two join Porter Stone, a world-renowned archaeologist (treasure hunter to his detractors) in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo where Stone is conducting research on the last (and hitherto unknown) quest of Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, the great British archaeologist whose illustrious career spanned the years from the late 19th Century to almost the middle of the 20th. Hieroglyphic etchings on an ostracon (a pottery fragment) hints that Narmer, the first king of a united Upper and Lower Egypt (c.3200 BCE), was not buried in Abydos as had always been believed, but that he was entombed where the Nile loses itself in the Sudd, a remarkable geographic area in Sudan (in reality, in South Sudan). The Sudd described by Child (and Allan Moorehead in his 1960 bestseller, The White Nile) is a vast floating malarial mire of decaying vegetation, deadly creatures of Land and water, and mud more treacherous than quicksand—a proverbial hellhole. While the real Sudd is less terrifying than the one described by Lincoln Child, this is where Porter Stone has constructed his floating research facility to search for Narmer’s tomb. Christine Romero, the research team’s Egyptologist, finally explains to Jeremy why he has been recruited to the effort: Narmer invoked a curse on any and all who would violate his tomb. Dismissed out of hand at the outset by the project scientists and technicians, a continuing plague of mishaps –accidents, misplaced objects, equipment breakdowns—have begun to spook the staff, and Porter Stone was convinced by Ethan Rush to bring Jeremy and his occult talents on-board—just in case. The curse is an extensive one that threatens increased suffering as each of the tomb’s three gates is transgressed. Trespassing the Third and final Gate promises that”…the black god of the deepest pit will seize him, and his limbs will be scattered to the uttermost corners of the earth. And I, Narmer the Everlasting, will torment him and his, by day and by night, waking and sleeping, until madness and death become his eternal temple.”
The accidents and near-disasters continue to pile up and Logan senses that, in fact, something very disturbing is taking place as the researchers draw nearer to breaching the lost tomb of Narmer. He senses a pervasive and malignant evil, almost a physical presence, around the site, and he begins to speculate that perhaps Narmer established his final resting place so far from his beloved Egypt to protect it from something buried with him! When Jeremy discovers that Ethan Rush’s wife Jennifer, still obviously showing emotional scars from her tragic near-death trauma, is a quiet presence at the research facility, he also begins to wonder if archaeological discovery is the only, or even the main, purpose of the Narmer expedition.
The pace of the novel picks up with every turn of the page and unsettling surprises await the reader as gate after gate of Narmer’s tomb is violated. This is good, old-fashioned thriller fiction at its best—a great read for a cold winter weekend. Three trowels for The Third Gate.