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Book Review

Book: The Egyptologist
Author: Arthur Phillips
Published: May, 2005
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks

available at

Synopsis: It is the 1920s and British explorer Ralph Trilipush is combing the desert sands for the tomb of the elusive Egyptian pharaoh, Atum-hadu. Despite the possibility that the king doesn’t even exist, Trilipush has gained the financial backing of an American tycoon whose daughter, Margaret Finneran, he is soon to wed. Not only does Trilipush encounter just about every obstacle known to an explorer, he must also endure the success of prominent Egyptologist Howard Carter who has much better luck and far more financial support in the adjacent sand dune as he unearths the famous King Tut treasures. Much of Trilipush’s difficulty is caused by dogged detective Harold Ferrell who becomes involved while searching for an heir to a large estate who happens to also have an obsession with Egyptology. Ferrell becomes convinced that Trilipush has committed a crime and is determined to bring him to justice while earning some hefty fees in the process. The whole story is recounted years later through a series of letters written by Trilipush to his fiancé and his academic journal entries, and letters written by Ferrell to Margaret’s nephew after her death.

Editor’s Review: Truth be told, I nearly abandoned The Egyptologist after the first two chapters. Even though the writing style of the characters was engaging, I really had to “work at it” to figure out what was happening. But as fate would have it, I had nothing else to read during a few stints in waiting rooms one week, and I was forced to continue with the book or succumb to some golf and business mags. My perseverance paid off! The Egyptologist came through and offered me some profound insights.

One of the things I didn’t like about the book at first was that it was difficult to get to know the true nature of the characters since they were described to me in letter and journal format. But as it turns out, the ambiguous nature of the characters is what leads to an increasing element of suspense as the story unfolds. You never can be sure what the truth is because each character has his own reasons for withholding facts or interpreting them in certain ways. What is fascinating about the book is that Phillips draws a parallel between the ancient Egyptian story described on the walls of a tomb and the one set in the 1920s -- the clues we have of people’s lives in the past may not tell the whole story and much is lost forever. The story also illustrates how interpretations and false assumptions can result in false conclusions about the past and remind us that much of history is after all, subjective.

For the art history buff, there is a plethora of information about the art of Egyptian tombs and enough procedural detail to satisfy the archaeology enthusiast. Trilipush’s journal entries describe in great detail his methods for locating, uncovering, deciphering and documenting his finds and even reveal the academic and financial rigmarole that is required to achieve a successful dig.

I’m still unsure if the author intends for the reader to guess the “secret” about one of the characters since he never really tells you in the end if the obvious (to me) guess is true. I guessed it early on but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book; rather it motivated me to read on to discover if my deduction was correct.

In summary, if you’re willing to work for some valuable insights on the nature of history and the work of Egyptologists, The Egyptologist is worth the effort. If you want an easy and straightforward read that ties up all loose ends in a grand finale, you may be better off passing up this complex and intelligent novel for a simple mystery.

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Diana Blake is a professional artist and art history enthusiast. Her fascination with art history began when she encountered European art firsthand during several trips abroad as a young adult. As she began to compose a portfolio for her own art career, she called upon what she had seen in Europe and extended her knowledge to other styles of art through profuse reading and exhaustive research. As a result, Diana has written more than one hundred articles in which she delves into a variety of art history topics and she has compiled a list of links that she believes to be invaluable for art history enthusiasts. In addition, she also reviews books and movies on the topic of art history and has assembled an extensive list of online stores that sell books, movies and gift items related to art history.
   You can see Diana's own artwork by visiting her site at