The Murder of King Tut by James Patterson
Allegedly, James Patterson’s “The Murder of King Tut” is a nonfiction account of, as you might have guessed, the murder of King Tut. As far as I know, scholars do not universally agree that Tut actually was murdered, but Patterson, like many others, believes that he was murdered and endeavors to prove it. There are actually three storylines to this book, and I’m going to describe and review each one in a separate paragraph, from the most minor to the most major.
James Patterson actually inserted himself and a bit of his writing process into “The Murder of King Tut.” He talked about how he became interested in the case, how he pitched it to his publisher, and, incessantly, how many other manuscripts he had going on at the same time. This is definitely the storyline that worked LEAST for me. First of all, it was not given anything approaching equal weight with the rest of the book. I expected he would talk about his research process, but he didn’t. The whole thing was just 2-3 random scenes thrown in the middle. Far from adding anything to the story, I’d say that this just distracted me from what Patterson was trying to write about.
The next story thread was that of Howard Carter, the man who would one day discover Tut’s tomb. This was a fairly interesting storyline, but it really did not fit with the storyline of King Tut as well as might have been hoped. I will say, though, that I thought it was reasonable that one might call this part of the storyline nonfiction. Carter certainly is close enough to being a contemporary that there might be a good deal of information on his thoughts, activities, and conversations. I didn’t see much in the way of citations of where he got this information, though, if he wants to call it nonfiction.
Now we come to the part that was simultaneously most enjoyable and most annoying. This is the storyline I expected when I picked up “The Murder of King Tut,” the one beginning in ancient Egypt. Instead of beginning with his supposed grandfather, Amenhotep III. Let’s be clear, though, that scholars are NOT of one mind about whether Tut was the son of Akenhaten and grandson of Amenhotep III. Of course, that isn’t mentioned in Patterson’s work. The whole thing is told as a narrative, which makes for good reading, but drove me completely insane. We do NOT have tape recordings of Tut and his wife speaking in Ancient Egyptian, so how on EARTH can copious discussions between the two be presented matter-of-factly in something purporting to be nonfiction? People! This HISTORICAL FICTION, it is not nonfiction. Then there’s the fact that Tut’s alleged murder gets just sort of thrown in at the end. I do think that 2/3 of Patterson’s theory on who killed Tut is more than plausible, although he did NOT convince me at all of that last 1/3, but the ‘evidence’ he gives is circumstantial at best.
Okay, so my biggest issue with this book is that it really, really, REALLY needs to be called Historical Fiction. Then there’s the fact that it isn’t particularly good historical fiction. This is simply not Patterson’s genre. He writes modern, not terribly deep characters, so he put modern, not terribly deep characters against the setting of Ancient Egypt. Tut’s wife in particular I did not buy as living over 3,000 years ago. Patterson’s style also drove me a little insane. Yes, the cliffhanger on every page technique can work in thrillers, no, it does not work in historical fiction. Really, it just makes you look silly when Tut and General Hohremheb have a (not particularly suspenseful) conversation and you decide to end the chapter in the middle of said conversation, only to continue it on the next page.
Long story short: I thought this book sounded interesting (who better than James Patterson to bring life to a very cold case), but there were far too many flaws in the execution. Perhaps working on 18 manuscripts at once is NOT a good idea.
Source: My TBR pile, originally won in a blog contest