"A little rebellion now and then is a good thing."
- Thomas Jefferson
When it comes to finishing series, particular favorites of mine, I have an embarrassing track record of postponing the inevitable end and allow a final installment of a series to linger for months before, literarily, closing the book on them – which is why I still haven't read the final volume of Hikaru no Go almost a year after its release. I'm not quite sure why I hold of these endings, but the same was happening with Paul Doherty's The Spies of Sobeck (2008). The seventh entry in the Judge Amerotke series.

The series has been as dormant as the sun baked Sphinx of Giza, shrouding itself in uncertainties as to its status, until Paul Doherty announced last December the return of Amerotke, Chief Judge of the Hall of Two Truths, which is why you read this review now instead of somewhere towards the end of this/beginning of the next year. Yes. Nearly six months have been plucked from the calendar since the announcement, but believe me, it's a pretty swift return considering how slow I usually am with picking up series after abandoning them. This will probably lead to a handful of non-mystery related posts in the future, because I really need to return to the Artemis Fowl books and the epic Journey to the West one of these days.

Anyway, on to the review of a book I was a bit skeptical of after reading a review that seemed to have betrayed a rather unimaginative solution to the central (locked room) problem of the book. I basically decided to read it so I could take it off my list and have a complete set of reviews for when the new book comes out, but found a surprisingly good and clever detective story in an underhanded sort of way. But more on that when we come to the problem of the sealed mansion.

Upon her return from victories in the North, Egypt's Pharaoh-Queen Hatusu (Doherty's pet name for Hatshepsut) is confronted with a Nubian uprising in the South as rebellion begins to bubble beneath the surface of her sultry kingdom when a Nubian sect of killers, known as the Arites, begin to wage a very personal war against their Egyptian rulers – and even series characters aren't safe from the strangling clutch of their blood red cloths. Imperial messengers and members of the Medjay, Egyptian soldiers, vanish without a trace around the Oasis of Sinjar and one of the regulars is brutally murdered alongside with the members of his household and servants – and a similar attempt at the home of Amerotke was thwarted in bloody confrontation. And with bloody, I mean really, really bloody. Serial-strangulations, impalements, throat-cuttings, etc. After a while, I stopped counting the bodies because there were simply too many of them. Doherty is not a cozy writer!

Hatshepsut: a woman of stone resolve
But it's the Mansion of Silence, the garden retreat of Imothep, formerly chief scout of the titular spies, which provides a puzzle for this story. At the end of the day, Imothep locks himself up in the mansion and intone his prayers to a dying sun. The house is bolted from in the in-as well as the outside and the windows are barred and several feet up. Even outside shadows could not penetrate the fortified retreat, however, when the doors are busted open they find the former chief with a red strip of cloth tightly knotted around his throat. A valuable statue that once belonged to the murderous sect is missing.

I have to commend Doherty for convincing me in the end that the solution for the locked room trick is not a cheat but actually quite clever. It's one of those things that only works (and is acceptable) in a historical setting and isn't that sort of what you expect from a writer of historical flights-of-fancies? Granted, it's not one of the best of its kind, but I do appreciate the effort that was clearly put into it and the attempts made at misdirecting the reader. The clueing was still sparse but more than in some of his previous books I read. And when Doherty drops a clue, he drops a good one. In this case, the decomposed remains of a man, whose hands were cut-off, discovered in Imothep's garden a few days before his own murder. Like I said before, if you enjoy mysteries that read like the diary of a cat or includes the sleuth's knitting patterns at the end of the book than Doherty is perhaps not for you. His characters walk those mean streets of history!

The rest of the story is an exciting historical thriller, in which Judge Amerotke (and others) dodge assassins, descend into the underworld of Thebes and break the back of the Nubian revolt. It's a fast-paced, entertaining read and the fact that Doherty can write not only helps with telling a page-turning story, but also with incorporating his knowledge of history without disturbing the flow of the story. I only wish Doherty would do more with the clueing/fair play aspect when writing these stories.

I have now read all of the Judge Amerotke novels, seven in total, but instead of giving the bibliography chronologically, I will post them in order of strongest to weakest:

The Anubis Slayings (2000) [****]
The Horus Killings (1999) [****]
The Poisoner of Ptah (2007) [***]
The Spies of Sobeck (2008) [***]
The Slayers of Seth (2001) [***]
The Mask of Ra (1998) – a co-review with Patrick [***]


  1. Thanks for the review. It has been a while since I read this book, so I have forgotten the locked room solution. At least Doherty is going to publish another book in the series. Thanks for the information.

    1. You're welcome. There's only one downside to the new installment: it will be a year wait (at least) for the book and that's a very long time, for me, to be away from the series.

  2. I' have the first three, have only read the first one, and enjoyed it, and then got "sidetracked" as so often happens, it seems. Must get back to these. I, too, save the end of a series, and have a couple, the Resnick mysteries of John Harvey is an example, that have gone many years - more then a decade - unread for this reason. Sigh. One should only save the good stuff for so long, I guess, before it may be in danger of becoming tarnished or forgotten.

    1. The first of the bunch, The Mask of Ra, was a fun read, but it was also very much preoccupied with introducing the characters and setting up events. The Horus Killings is a vast improvement on its predecessor and The Anubis Slayings was the best of the lot. So you really must go back to them one of these days. ;)

      Personally, I hate it that I keep saving the "good stuff." I mean, what am I afraid of? That I run out of detective stories? Not a very likely scenario within this community!

  3. Well, if it makes you fell any better, I've been known putting off the last of a series by as much as a decade (and I've done that more than once). I probably used to think I was going to live forever ...

    1. Yes. Yes, that made me feel better. I can put endings off for a very, very long time, but eventually, I will get impatient and that moment usually comes well within the span of a decade.