Signet first published this story in 1979 towards the end of the "Treasures of Tutankhamun" exhibition. My biggest takeaway from the story was that, despite international fame, Tutankhamun was a relatively minor figure in the scheme of things back in the day.
The story begins in 1301 BC at the tomb of Tutankhamen. The boy king's tomb is left unguarded due to Pharaoh Horemheb's edict to make Tutankhamen a non-person. So it's easy pickings for four tomb raiders, led by a stonecutter named Emeni, who needs only a modest amount of treasure to pay for his parent's funeral.
After the four co-conspirators enter Tutankhamen's tomb, greed drives the other three tomb raiders to madness. Emeni soon realizes that the others intend to desecrate the tomb in toto, so he heads off to a Necropolis guard station to stop their looting.
"No good deed goes unpunished." Seti I's chief architect, Nenephta, interrogates Emeni during a torture session that ultimately ends with Emeni's death. The interrogation highlights the role of greed and inspires Nenephta to invent a better scheme to protect Seti I's tomb. Nenephta says, "I now know how to guard the treasures of our Pharaoh Seti I for all eternity. I can't believe I never thought of it before."
The story next skips forward to 1922 when Lord Carnarvon enters the tomb. Everyone in the Carnarvon party who enters the tomb dies of blood poisoning a few weeks later. Their deaths are attributed to the curse of the Pharaohs.
The story finally arrives in the present time with an Egyptologist named Erica. She scoffs when a peer named Yvon brings up the curse of the Pharaohs. Yvon reminds Erica that Egyptians in ancient times were masters of poisons and the occult.
Yvon's advice reminds me of the Alexandre Cabanel painting. Cleopatra's obsession with poison and venomous animals motivates her to poison people to entertain her guests. Her infamy is such that lover Mark Antony refuses to eat anything until after Cleopatra takes the first bite.
After all of this buildup at the start, _Sphinx_ goes on for hundreds of pages with nary a mention of the curse of the Pharohs. The whole thing starts feeling like a McGuffin, at least until the denouement.
As always, wordsmith Cook's settings come to life in my mind's eye. The story is yet another Cook whodunit. There is slight character development along the lines of the characters becoming wiser.
© 2018 Don Kuenz