The Third Gate

by: Lincoln Child

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are a team of writers who created the modern-day Sherlock Holmes, Aloysius Pendergast, about whose exploits I have written in this column before. They are tinged with the supernatural, but never step more than a toe into that territory, which keeps then fun and fascinating without going all " sparkly.="" />
Each author has also written a stack of interesting books on his own, with the adventure/mysterious element prominent in both.

In The Third Gate, Child has delved - literally - into the mysteries of Egypt, but to his imaginative credit has found a way to unwrap a mystery of a different sort.

The mummy and curses and ancient pharaohs and aliens-as-Egyptians themes - they've all been done. But never before has anyone put the tomb not in sand but in mud, and in a real area of the earth that, much to my astonishment, I'd never heard of before.

The Sudd is that area bordering the Nile that is more or less quicksand, or something very like it, full of icky, slime, rotting vegetation, and who-knows-what-else and therein lies the story of The Third Gate.

In  truth, the book is more promise than delivery, but the set up is great. A direct ripoff from Dan Brown's "symbologist" hero of The DaVinci Code, hero Jeremy Logan is an "enigmalogist." I'm not even sure how to pronounce that one. But he specializes in - what else - enigmas. Things that are hard to explain: the paranormal; mysteries without obvious solutions; ESP - that kind of thing. He is called to join an expedition into the Sudd where Victorian-style but modern day adventurer Porter Stone has assembled a crack team of roustabouts, doctors, a woman with unusual powers (thanks to her having been dead 14 minutes), the heroine (historian Tina Romero) and the other usual suspects will dig into said Sudd in search of the tomb of Narmer, purportedly a first real Pharaoh of both Upper and Lower Egypt, and a man well ahead of his time in terms of religion, mummification, and Egyptian civilization.

So far, so good.

Child writes with the practiced ease of a man who has written many books, and he knows how to leave a chapter hanging, pace his action, even develop a little tension among characters, romantic and otherwise.

But this novel seems rushed, and like many these days - unedited. Even the best novelist descends into cliche from time to time, and sometimes doesn't sufficiently explain the "why" of a character's behavior. While Porter Stone's greed  and Dr. Rush's lethal curiosity (he sends his once-dead wife into drug induced trances in an attempt to contact the spirit of Narmer) serve as villains of a sort, there is no real mustache-twirling bad guy to root against, and Logan is a tepid hero at best.

Still, the idea that a tomb could have been discovered deep down under the muck of the Sudd; that a floating village of scientific buildings could be assembled atop this mysterious and awful place; and that inside the tomb could lie not only the grave goods, but possibly the malign spirit of this ancient Pharaoh - that's all good stuff for a summer-time novel of the best kind.

Oh, Lincoln - one small quibble: get your "thees" and "thous" straight: thou is subject, thee is object. A small point, but irritating when being mouthed by the real bad guy in the story.


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