Kill Like a God

"Keep your friends close, but your enemies even closer."
- Michael Corleone (The Godfather II, 1974)
Paul Doherty is a name that has been echoing around these parts of the blogosphere, message boards and communities for weeks before it began resonating on our reading lists as more and more mystery buffs seem to be handing in book reports on their blogs and it is easy to understand why he's a writer you can easily pick up – no matter where you stand in the genre. Doherty situates his stories in fascinating sceneries, in which he allows the past to rise up to obscure the present by carefully reconstructing the mise en scène of erstwhile civilizations, fraught with danger, intrigue, mystery and oodles of crimes – some of them perpetrated in apparently impenetrable surroundings! 

The Anubis Slayings (2000) is no exception and is a continuation of the previous novel, The Horus Killings (1999), in which Hatusu, better known to historians as Hatshepsut, ascended the throne and established herself as the first women whose head was adorned with the double crown of Egypt – while her trusted subject, Chief Judge Amerotke, brought light in an ever darkening affair enshrouding the Temple of Horus.

But before I go on with this review, I must point out here that the skeleton plot of this book bears a striking resemblance to its predecessor, however, the multitude of plot strands are pulled a lot tighter together here and this benefited the overarching story notably.

In The Anubis Slayings, Hatusu and the vanquished King Tushratta of Mitanni are negotiating at the Temple of Anubis on a treaty to ensure a peaceful existence between the once warring nations, but King Tushratta is embittered at having tasted defeat at the hands of a woman he now has to bow his knees to – and in his heart he vows to avenge his wounded echo. Hatusu isn't taken in with the Mitanni monarch, either, and slowly, but surely, it becomes apparent that one of the participating parties is sabotaging the tentative truce – as the temple becomes the scene of a baffling crime that suggests the hand of a supernatural being. The patron saint of embalmers, Anubis, is even seen walking the earthly soil of the temple!

One of the temple chapels closely resembles an inviolable bastion, safeguarding a holy amethyst known as The Glory of Anubis, but someone managed to sneak pass the guards unseen, phase through a solid door, locked from the inside, without disturbing the pool dug in front of the door and plunge a dagger into the priest murmuring prayers in front of a statue of Anubis before dissolving into thin air with the amethyst – and when the door is broken down they find the only key of the door still dangling from the dead man's girdle. As with the previous book, the deception of the sealed room illusion here was also cleverly hinged on a presumption, but ultimately not a very spectacular or mind-blowing explanation. Although I definitely liked this locked chapel problem a lot more than the murder in the closed-off garden tower from the previous case.

But the theft and slaying of a priest at the temple aren't the only hurdles Judge Amoretke has to clear in order to preserve the environment needed to work out a deal with the Mitanni. In his capacity as Chief Judge he's also obliged to look into a myriad of varying problems, which range from a lost manuscript by a renowned traveler whose savaged remains were fished from the river Nile to a Mitanni warlord found with barely a mark on his body in a chamber with the door and shutters locked or latched from the inside, but in this story all the plot threads are connected to one single intricate scheme – which turned out to be a huge improvement in comparison with its forerunner.

Nonetheless, there were too many of these plot threads running through the story to utilize them all to their full potential and some of them receded into the background almost immediately after they were introduced and only brought up again towards the end as an afterthought, but that's a minor complaint, really, measured against the overall quality of the story – in which Doherty expertly reconstructed an ancient civilization and wrapped it up with enough threads from which he could've easily spun three more novels. So why do I even bring up two strands that were lost sight of when a thick blanket, embroiled with pleasing patterns, was being woven? I mean, this is the kind of plot I always hope to find in a post-GAD story.  

In summary, this is a book that is gratifying in its offering of a twisted, maze-like plot populated with interestingly drawn characters and is basically a breed of grand detective story that was thought to be extinct – and even though Doherty's sparse clueing betrays a modern heritage it takes very little, if any, away from the book.

Absolutely recommended without reservations!

The Judge Amerotke series:

The Mask of Ra (1998)
The Horus Killings (1999)
The Anubis Slayings (2000)
The Slayers of Seth (2001)
The Assassins of Isis (2004)
The Poisoner of Ptah (2007)
The Spies of Sobeck (2008)


  1. I completely agree with your point about the sparse clueing which is probably the weakest part of Doherty's writing - having just finished Half-Way House by Ellery Queen, he reels of a list of nine clues that point towards the murderer, none of which were one-line comments...

    By the way, I've put links to your Doherty reviews on my summary page on my blog. Hope that's OK.

  2. Doc, of course I'm OK with that. And since you are the instigator of this spur of reviews, it's fitting that these links are tied to your blog.

  3. Yeah, "The Devil's Domain", while strictly fair-play in its clueing, did have clues borderlining the "green tie" domain. Still, the solution and method in general were excellent and, I found, more than made up for the weaknesses.

    This sounds like an excellent read. I call dibs on "The Spies of Sobeck"! (What? I already have the book...)

  4. I know that The Spies of Sobeck contains a locked room mystery, but a reviewer spoiled the solution without a warning. So you can have a first shot at that novel.

    By the way, I expect a package next week with copies of The Mask of Ra and The Assassins of Isis. If everything goes according to plan, I will have reviewed the entire Judge Amerotke series before the end of the year.

  5. Thanks for another review. I read this book several years ago and don't remember a lot of it, but I do know it was one of the best in the series.

  6. Mask of Ra is coming v soon on my blog - I've a bit of a backlog of reviews that built up over the summer, so I'm drip-feeding them at the moment... I'm going to be very interested to see how having read books 2 & 3 affect your opinion of Ra.

  7. Oh, and technically, Sergio at Tipping My Fedora started this by recommending Doherty when I was questing in vain for a decent historical mystery. So it's all his fault.

  8. Doc, I already harbor dark suspicions regarding one of the regular characters, whom plays a prominent role in the later books, but we'll see – and my review of the book will probably have a different format than usual. But I have to consult a fellow blogger on this proposition first.

    If you're still questing for good historical mysteries, you have to give my compatriot, Robert van Gulik, a shot, as he was arguably one of the best writers this sub-genre had to offer. John Dickson Carr also wrote a few very good ones.

    Unfortunately, the often poetic, borderline impossible mysteries by Bertus Aafjes, featuring Judge Ooka, are unavailable in English, but they're great reads for anyone who enjoys these types of stories. I did an entire blog post on him, which you can read here.

    Even if Sergio is the instigator, that doesn't unburden your conscience. All these reviews are still your doing. ;)