Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Curse of Silence - Lauren Haney

    2000; 282 pages.  Book #4 (out of 8) in the Lieutenant Bak series.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Murder-Mystery; Historical Fiction.  Overall Rating : 9*/10.

    The people of Buhen are upset with their Queen.  Their city stands near the southern border of the Egyptian empire (in what is now northern Sudan), with an army garrison stationed with them to keep the desert bandits and southern barbarians at bay.  Now a delegation is about to arrive to inspect the forts of the region, and it is rumored that it will recommend the army be withdrawn from this far flung outpost.

    The locals, and the army, meet the delegation with sullen stoniness, but their seething frustration is not lost upon the visiting bigwigs.  But a job’s a job, and the evaluation gets underway.

    Things turn bad when a desert bandit leader returns to the area to foment rebellion.  They get even worse when one of the local tribal princes is murdered in the house where the delegation is staying.  He was a popular noble, and if Lieutenant Bak doesn’t catch the culprit soon, the Egyptians can expect no cooperation from the inhabitants around Buhen.

    That would threaten the Empire.  And the Empire does not like to be threatened.

What’s To Like...
    A Curse of Silence is about equal parts Historical Fiction and Murder-Mystery.  It is set during the reign of the 18th Dynasty in Egypt, which timewise is about the 14th Century BC.  The setting – The fortress at Buhen, in the area called Medjay, in the region nicknamed the Belly of Stones – is historically accurate.  You can read about any and all of these in Wikipedia.

    There’s a cast of characters (and deities) at the beginning of the book, and Kindle readers might want to bookmark it for quick reference.  There are a lot of characters to meet, and they all seem to have no discernible motive for killing the prince.  In truth, you won’t be able to figure out who did it until the key piece of evidence is uncovered, so relax and enjoy the company of Bak as he hits dead-end after dead-end and tries to avert a military disaster by solving the slaying before the hordes of desert bandits attack the outnumbered garrison.

    I found the book to be an excellent piece of Historical Fiction.  There are a couple of info-dumps at the beginning (what they eat, what the lay of the land looks like), but after that the narrative flowed smoothly and the setting felt very "real".

    The book is also an excellent Murder-Mystery.  I especially liked that the “color” of the characters evolves as the story goes along.  Lieutenant Bak has to change his opinion of several of the visitors as time goes by, and mostly for the better.

    The ending is deftly handled, with the issues of both the desert bandit and the murderer neatly taken care of.  There is some bloodshed, a house of ill-repute, and at least an allusion to child sexploitation.  But the gore is minimal and nothing lewd occurs onstage.  This is a standalone novel, which I appreciate since I haven’t read the earlier books in the series.

    “First it was the men along the river, and now this!” Amonked expelled a long, irritated sigh.  “I can understand her anxiety – I also am concerned – but will she never learn to suffer in silence?”
    You don’t know how fortunate you are, Bak thought, that Thaneny so often stands between you, taking the brunt of her wrath.
    “She’ll not be content until we return to Kemet, that she’s made clear, but I suppose I must make an effort to soothe her.”  Amonked looked at the concubine for a long time, as if he dreaded going to her.  “Do you share your life with a woman, Lieutenant?”
    “No, sir.”
    “You’re a most fortunate man.”  (loc. 2903)

    “Do you have any idea who the slayer might be?” he asked Bak.
    “None.”  Another truth hard to take, one Bak could not gloss over.
    Amonked’s tone sharpened.  “Then the wretched creature could as easily be in Buhen as here.”
    “Every instinct tells me you brought him with you from Waset and he’s traveling with us now.”
    “I’d feel better, Lieutenant, if you spoke of reason, not instinct.”  (loc. 3290)

Kindle Details...
    A Curse of Silence sells for $0.99 at Amazon, which is a terrific price.  All the other books in the series also go for $0.99, with the exception of A Place of Darkness, which for some reason sells for $5.69.

“Not everyone is blessed with common sense, Pawah, and those who aren’t seldom listen to those who are.”  (loc. 2884)
    The worst I can say about A Curse of Silence is that the ultimate fate of the murderer is left dangling.  It could be that the character will pop up again somewhere further along in the series.  It also could be that spelling out the final judgment allotted to the crime-doer would have drawn out what was an otherwise superbly-paced ending.  But I pick at nits.

    I read a fair amount of Murder-Mysteries, and it is always a treat to stumble across a new author who knows how to write one, and who brings some refreshing new plotlines to the genre.  When a fascinating historical setting is also included, well, that’s just icing on the cake.

    My local digital library carries about half of the books in this series, and at $0.99 for (most of) the rest, I can easily see me reading a bunch more of Lieutenant Bak’s adventures.

    9 Stars.  Highly recommended.

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