Egyptian Enigma by L. J. M. Owen is highly original, smart and suspenseful with plenty of humour and page-turning intrigue. But more than that, it’s a book that tilts the mystery genre in an interesting new direction, by an Australian author whose special talent is to a shine light on the past, while keeping the plot moving and the reader guessing.
If you’re meeting Dr Elizabeth Pimms, archaeologist extraordinaire, for the first time, allow us to introduce her: think of her as a female Indiana Jones, minus the bad catch phrases and with updated technology, such as 3-D printers that can scan mummies into a life-like avatar.
Egyptian Enigma is the third in the Dr Pimms, Intermillenial Sleuth series, dubbed ‘archaeo-biblio mysteries’ (a puzzling crime or event that can only be solved by applying archaeological techniques). This time the endearing doctor (who reminds you of ABC-TV’s Vera) is excavating Egyptian ruins in an attempt to unlock the secret of the Golden Tomb and she is determined to follow her instincts and crack ancient mysteries that have remained unsolved for thousands of years. Yes, a very cold case.
The story begins in Cairo where Dr Pimms discovers the Golden Tomb, which was built for an unknown prince, whose Pharaoh father is also unknown: both names had been mysteriously chiselled off the sarcophagus and wherever they appeared on the walls. Hidden in the tomb were mummies, possible leads to uncovering the identity of the creator of the Golden Tomb. But before our clever sleuth can complete her observations a thief steals her notebook, begging the question: what value could a used notebook possibly have on the streets of Cairo?
Back in Canberra, Dr Pimms gets to work studying the mummies and other archaeological evidence and discovers that some of them depict signs of violence and murder: their throats are cut, faces ravaged and gashed.
Running parallel to Dr Pimms’ investigation is the story of Taurset, female regent during the ancient Egyptian civilisation. She was embroiled in a murder plot that succeeded in killing her brother, Seti, leaving her as the last ruler of Egypt’s Nineteenth Dynasty. Unlike many other ancient civilisations, many Egyptian women participated fully in the academic, business, military, and leadership realms. In fact, many aspects of women’s status in ancient Egypt outstripped that of many women today.
That being said, only a few ancient Egyptian women, such as Hatshepsut and Taurset, ever ruled as Pharaoh, usually by assuming co-regency and ruling alongside a male heir too young to control Egypt. During her mission to avenge her brother’s death, Taurset discovers that the murder plot originated somewhere close to home, with the clues to the betrayal becoming clearer as the novel progresses.
Both Dr Pimms’s investigation and Taurset’s quest to avenge her brother intertwine cleverly, providing clues to the reader about how to solve each of the mysteries. Here, Owens pays homage to traditional crime novels, drip-feeding clues to the reader at the same time as the characters, thereby giving the reader a sneaky chance of solving the mystery before anyone else does.
Although the third in the series, Egyptian Enigma can easily be read as a standalone. The first novel, Olmec Obituary, follows Dr Pimms as she investigates a royal Olmec cemetery discovered deep in the Mexican jungle. The second book, Mayan Mendacity, gives Dr Pimms the task of solving the mystery behind the tiny skeletons discovered on a Guatemalan island.
If you haven’t tapped into this delicious series before, dig in and dig down – there’s a lot of reading pleasure to excavate.
Dr L. J. M. Owen is a writer, librarian and archaeologist. She creates the world of Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth, from her homes in Canberra and Tasmania.
Presented as traditional crime novels, L. J. crafts the series by transforming science and history into accessible fiction with broad appeal. A limited edition run of the first book in the Dr Pimms series, Olmec Obituary, was crowdfunded in 2015. The book was then traditionally published by Bonnier in 2015, followed by Mayan Mendacity in 2016.