From Publishers Weekly
Lord Elgin, Napoleon Bonaparte and the Egyptian Pharaoh Shepseskaf are but three of the world-renowned figures with whom Mackin (The Queen's War, 1991) enlivens this exemplary historical romance. Lovely Marguerite Verdier survived the Terror in France with her beloved husband, Michel, but finally flees his philandering in order to serve as an illustrator for one of Napoleon's archeologists in Egypt. In August 1799, Michel shows up in Cairo, choosing a fateful day on which to reclaim his wife and to pursue a mission for Talleyrand: that evening, a young Arab sickens and later dies of coffee poured by Marguerite for the future emperor, who declined the cup. Jailed, Marguerite must trust Michel to prove her innocent. The dead man's father, meanwhile, contemplates revenge, as does his widow, who plans to draw the murderer into completing an antiquities transaction for the legendary artifact "Woman Carried Away." This stela, its history recounted in tantalizing flashbacks to ancient Egypt and Rome, becomes the common thread that ties past to the novel's present, and sundry personages to a dangerous appointment in the Valley of the Caliphs. Plenty of romance and intrigue, vital characters and exquisite details of both period and place ensure a vigorous and satisfying read.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
The author of The Frenchwoman (1989) and The Queen's War (1991) again imaginatively (but responsibly, judiciously) samples French history and here constructs a witty, lightly satirical, entertaining amalgam of murder, greed, and revenge, all peculiarly attached to a kind of treasure hunt for an ancient Egyptian stela-- a slab of stone picturing the goddess Hathor (appropriately, the goddess of love and laughter). The story takes place in 1798 Cairo, during Napoleon Bonaparte's occupation of Egypt, with millennia-spanning stela- sightings in the fourth century b.c. and the fourth century a.d. At the start, Napoleon, glory-bound, is headed for Egypt, bringing along with his army a team of scholars to record the (generally unknown) history of Egypt and to find and claim its artifacts. Chief among the prizes is a stela thought to have once been owned by Alexander the Great. The panel, intended for a royal tomb, has a unique history: In 3737 b.c., a dying pharaoh had been robbed of immortality as the slab of stone destined to bear his name beside the image of the goddess Hathor (who would rescue him from death) was hidden by his nasty son-in-law. The pharaoh's daughter took revenge by means of a drink spiked with ground glass--a libation identical to one used in Napoleon's coffee during a dinner in Cairo. Luckily, the General refuses the drink, but a sheik's nephew dies. A young French couple, the Verdiers, banished to a temporary prison as suspects, ponder in Nick-and-Nora fashion: Who would try to knock off Napoleon? Meanwhile, there's a stela-hunt afoot. Among the hunters: a stone-eyed collector, Napoleon's doctor; the fiery Turkish widow of the sheik's nephew; a Turkish sheik hoping to bribe the fatuous collector Lord Elgin; Lord Elgin himself; and the Verdiers, hoping to return to Napoleon's good graces. There'll be night journeys, betrayals large and small, spying and mayhem. All this during the Nile's flooding, a ``season of charms and spells.'' A richly intelligent and charming spellbinder. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.