The Collector’s Daughter by Gill Paul

I’ve always been transfixed by stories of ancient Egypt and in particular those surrounding the opening of Tutankhamen’s tomb in the 1920s, and the tales of the Earl of Carnarvon and the archaeologist responsible for the site, Howard Carter. What I didn’t know and what Gill Paul’s novel tells, is the story of the Earl’s daughter, amateur archaeologist, Lady Evelyn (later Beauchamp), who was also present when the tomb was opened. Based on known facts and real historical figures, this is a wonderful story about love, loyalty, cultural appropriation, secrets, superstition and memory. 

Moving between two time frames – the 1920s and 1970s – the story of the discovery and the subsequent tragedies that follow, become a backdrop to Evelyn and her husband, Brograve’s, romance and marriage – familial and personal triumphs and setbacks and the ways in which the opening of the tomb impacted their lives. 

What I particularly loved about this book was that in one of the time frames, an older Evelyn and Brograve reflect upon their shared experiences over many decades as a loving couple in their 70s, dealing with a health crisis and salvaging memories and moments. It’s so sensitively written and it’s wonderful to have not only older voices narrating, but bearing witness to a functional relationship of so many years! 

The mystery at the heart of the book is evident early but also woven through the narrative in such a way that though there is no “big reveal”, the ending is both gratifying and strangely moving. It’s inevitable. The Author’s Notes are fascinating and I completely understand Gill Paul being unable to resist exploring Evelyn further once she learned about her and ultimately, telling HERstory. A lovely, affecting read.

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Egyptian Enigma by L.J.M. Owen

The third book in the Dr Pimms Intermillennial Sleuth series, the series that deals in very, very cold cases, Egyptian Enigma, is a rollicking read. This time, Elizabeth Pimms, a passionate archaeologist and Egyptologist, has returned to her beloved Egypt. While there, she stumbles upon some strange symbols in the corner of a papyrus. Intrigued by what they might signify, on her return to Australia, Elizabeth forms a specialist group whose role is to identify the mummies found in the tomb containing the papyrus and whose bodies are now located in different museums around the world.

Through the use of a 3D printer and some excellent didactic powers, skills and research, the group discover more than they bargained for. Seguing between contemporary Canberra, Egypt, the US and ancient Egypt and the actual lives of the mummies Elizabeth and her friends are researching, the story spans centuries.

When Elizabeth’s diary is first stolen in Cairo, then her family home is attacked in Australia and a beloved relative hurt, it appears that the past and present are more closely linked than first thought. What secret does a female pharaoh and her household possess that could possibly endanger Elizabeth and her family?

Filled with fascinating factual information and a really interesting author’s note at the end – the stuff on Tutankhamen was intriguing – the novel also manages to continue to explore the dynamics of Elizabeth’s extended family and their rich history and complex cultural and interrelationships as well – relationships that are often cemented and strengthened over food. Warmth just exudes in the scenes with her family as well as, when appropriate, genuine angst.

This is a terrific series that offers so much in terms of history, familial relationships, science, the power of knowledge and ways to apply it, and cross-cultural interactions. The mystery at the heart of each novel is, in so many ways, a delightful bonus.

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