2009; 308 pages. Book 2 (out of 8) of the Lieutenant Bak series. New Author? : No. Genre : Murder-Mystery; Historical Fiction. Overall Rating : 8*/10.
Someone has been smuggling goods – including very valuable ivory tusks – from below the southern borders of Egypt and up into the eastern Mediterranean lands. That means they’re traveling through Egypt without its ruler, Lady Maat, receiving any customs money from those transporting them across her borders. The Vizier and Viceroy are not pleased.
Someone else has been killing people, shooting them in the back with arrows. Multiple times, from considerable distance, and with admirable accuracy. The local people are concerned.
Lieutenant Bak has been assigned to investigate both issues, and to solve them both by the time the Vizier shows up on an official visit in just a couple days.
And frankly, if he can only resolve one in that short amount of time, his superiors would prefer that it be the smuggling issue.
What’s To Like...
I started reading Lauren Haney’s Lieutenant Bak series as a result of an e-book library “if you liked that, then you’ll like this” recommendation, and so far it’s been a treat. The other book I’ve read in the series, is reviewed here. The historical details about the series' ancient Egypt setting are given in that review.
As a piece of historical fiction, A Face Turned Backward is top-notch. The text can get meticulously descriptive at times, but that just helps sell the “realness” of the setting, and I always like that. My previous read in the series, A Curse of Silence, was set “out in the boondocks”. This one is set in a slightly more-civilized locale, a fortress called Buhen.
A number of themes and storylines are woven together here – an assault, several murders, the smuggling of both ivory and animals, and the distinct disadvantages you have if you’re poor and widowed, poor and feeble, and/or poor and in love with someone in a higher class.
Once again, there is a very handy Cast of Characters at the start of the book. The meaning of “A Face Turned Backward” isn't revealed until 98% through the book, and curiously it has nothing to do with the main plotline. Maybe the author was desperate for a title. This is a Police Procedural, which is always a delight for me; but there’s enough action interspersed along the way to keep the interest of readers who like their mystery to have some pizzazz.
The ending, the last 15% or so of the book, is particularly exciting and fast-paced. I thought the overall structure of the storyline was done quite well. This is a standalone novel.
Kewlest New Word...
Delimiting (v.) : determining or establishing the limits or boundaries of. (That seems counterintuitive to me.)
“The path leads to the wreck?”
“An easy walk beyond the village, yes.”
Bak pressed the rudder, guiding the skiff closer to shore. “And it’s from here you stole this boat?” The words slipped out as smooth as a dagger from a well-fitted sheath.
Tjanuny tensed for an instant, the relaxed. His face took on a wide-eyed look of honesty and candor. “I borrowed it.” (loc. 744)
“I’ll not withdraw what I’ve said before, Lieutenant. I’m responsible for this garrison; therefore, I’m the man who must sit in judgment on all who err along this sector of the river.”
Bak braced himself, expecting the worst.
“That’s not to say my officers can’t now and again use their own discretion.” Thuty paused, added in a dry voice, “As you’ve done in the past, and will no doubt continue to do in days to come.”
Bowing his head, hiding a relieved smile, Bak murmured, “I’ll not abuse the privilege, that I promise.”
“Humph!” (loc. 4446)
A Face Turned Backward sells for $0.99 at Amazon, and four of the other five e-books available from this series go for the same amount. That is a fantastic price. For some unfathomable reason, two of the books in the series have not yet been digitalized.
“Tales have a tendency to swell in direct proportion to the wishes of the one who listens.” (loc. 3547)
The Murder-Mystery portion of A Face Turned Backward is okay, but not spellbinding. There are several nits to pick. The plot isn’t very twisty, and Bak’s initial investigation – the assault – never ties into the main storyline; nor does it ever get resolved. Maybe it was intended as a red herring.
The mechanism for smuggling the tusks is blatantly obvious, and I rarely figure those sorts of things out before the protagonist does. The identity of the bad guy felt a bit arbitrary, although to be fair, when Bak is faced with 5 equally-likely suspects, he devises a clever way to flush the culprit out of the pack. The biggest quibble is the violation of Murder-Mystery Cliché #1, which is given in the comments to avoid spoilers.
8 Stars. 7 stars for the Murder-Mystery, 9 stars for the Historical Fiction. But don't let my personal quibbling dissuade you from picking up this book. It was still a very enjoyable and worthwhile read, especially if you're a history buff.