Fiction or Non-Fiction?
In a recent volume of KMT (1), a fictional book on ancient Egypt was reviewed and bore the title ‘The Pyramid of Doom‘, written by Andy McDermott. Mr. Adams, the reviewer, stated that
Zahi Hawass, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, recently announced he will no longer respond to petitions by misguided seekers-of-truth asking him to excavate under the Sphinx for the so-called “Hall of Records.”
The work certainly does not bear a favorable review as Mr. Adams sums up the book as “an example of the worst hack attempts to exploit Egyptian history for pointless action thrillers.” One can imagine the surprise upon my face, when I saw a book written by James Patterson on ancient Egypt in the non-fiction area of the bookstore I frequent. The author of a countless number of best-sellers including the ‘Maximum Ride’ series has taken a stab at the mystery surrounding the death of Tutankhamun. Entitled ‘The Murder of King Tut‘, he sets out to “explore the greatest unsolved death in history” and together with his co-author, Martin Dugard, they
dig through the evidence - X-rays, Carter’s files, forensic clues, and stories told through the ages – to arrive at their own account of King Tut’s life and death. (2)
Cover of "The Murder of King Tut"
Surely, Mr. Patterson’s work does not ask to excavate under the Sphinx, yet his proclamation that he has solved this age old mystery surrounding the death of Tutankhamun has to be regarded cautiously. Three plots occur at the same time as light is shone upon the life of Tutankhamun, the life of Howard Carter and his vain attempts to unearth this tomb is revealed and details into the life of James Patterson himself are illustrated. The reader is taken back and forth from antiquity into the modern world and this leaves one at times confused. There are over 100 chapters in total, although the book comprises just barely over 350 pages. Despite his claim to have conducted a lot of research, Mr. Patterson relies heavily on his gut instinct, which is a constant theme throughout the book. One particular episode reveals how after studying New Kingdom chronology, his gut instinct had him focus on a few kings after Tutankhamun and he writes:
Staring at them, I began to think that I wasn’t studying a random act of murder but a cold-blooded conspiracy. There was that gut instinct of mine again – the reason, I think, that Time Magazine had once called me “The Man Who Can’t Miss.” (3)
Effect on the General Public
The danger perhaps may not lie in writing such books and relying heavily on one’s instinct, but doing so for the general public, who learns from such books about ancient Egypt, may leave the reader obfuscated. A reviewer of the book stated, how she “opened the book uneducated in anything Egyptian, and left feeling I [she] knew a little something now.” (4) Another reviewer noted, how she “learned more about that time in history than I [she] think I ever did in high school.” (5)
Mr. Patterson certainly is a prolific author as he has written a myriad books that have gone on to become best-sellers. Yet, writing books about subjects and themes Egyptological requires a different approach. Surely, the general public may not always be in want to research further sources and references, yet no footnotes or references are provided at all in this work. Even the dialogs and action in the book only reflect upon the imagination of the author.
That is not to say that no research has been carried out, yet this book also aims to exploit Egyptian history in a similar manner as Mr. Adams was quoted from earlier and the reader is left with a fictionalized version of the actual story.
Please note that the author found the two websites below through Mr. Patterson’s book as their comments were featured as part of the ‘Acclaim’ section.
- J.M. Adams in KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt 22 (1) (2011), 83.
- J. Patterson & M. Dugard, The Murder of King Tut, (Grand Central Publishing; New York, 2009), back cover.
- Patterson & Dugard, Murder, 227. One may perhaps wonder at this point already, whether this book is focusing on King Tut himself or more so on the author.
- Minding Spot <http://mindingspot.blogspot.com/2009/09/murder-of-king-tut-plot-to-kill-child.html> accessed April 19, 2011.
- Lori’s Reading Corner <http://www.lorisreadingcorner.com/2009/09/murder-of-king-tut-by-james-patterson.html> accessed April 19, 2011.