Holmes and Watson in Egypt – what a treat…
Nicholas Meyer has been “editing” the posthumous memoirs of John H Watson, MD, for decades, albeit rather sporadically, starting with The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, which came out in 1974, and won a Gold Dagger Award. Now he’s come out with a fifth rip-roaring Holmes and Watson tale, The Return of the Pharaoh, which, as you might guess, is set in Egypt in the early part of the 1900s. And although I was a little nervous about whether this most recent book could keep up with my fond memories of Meyer’s earlier ones, I needn’t have worried. The Return of the Pharaoh grabbed me at (almost) the beginning and kept me amused and intrigued to the very end.
As the case opens, Watson is travelling with his wife, Juliet, to Cairo, where they hope the regimen at the Al Wadi sanitarium will help her overcome her recent bout of tuberculosis. But Juliet’s treatment schedule is quite strict, so Watson finds himself somewhat at loose ends. Until, of course, he runs into Sherlock Holmes, who is (gasp! horror!) wearing Watson’s old regimental tie as part of a disguise. It seems that Holmes has been retained to look for yet another English aristocrat, the Duke of Uxbridge, who apparently was bitten by the mania for Egyptology (or perhaps just the mania for gold), before disappearing in suspicious circumstances.
But there may be more to the tale. As Meyer points out (via Mycroft Holmes), Cairo at the time was a hotbed of international intrigue: although the Khedive nominally owed allegiance to the Ottoman Sultan in Istanbul, England wielded vast influence, rendering Egypt practically a colony. And all the while the Egyptians quite understandably wanted their country for themselves. In addition, there was still a big French presence from Napoleon’s days, and of course, everybody wanted control of the Suez Canal. Whew! Against this backdrop, was Uxbridge really the bumbler he appeared to be, or something more? And what about his mysterious mistress, who appears to have disappeared along with the Duke? I followed along with pleasure as Holmes and Watson tracked down clues, visited archaeological sites, headed up the Nile, and finally figured it all out.
I had only one minor issue with The Return of the Pharoah, which was that the introduction detailing the present-day history of Watson’s journals seemed a bit labored to me. But I forgot all about it as soon as the case got going, and thus it wasn’t a big deal. And one bit of advice – don’t forget to read the brief footnotes as you go. These range from merely informative to downright funny, but shouldn’t be skipped – even if you normally hate footnotes!
All-in-all, The Return of the Pharaoh is well worthy of Watson and Holmes, and gets five-stars from me. And finally, two disclosures. First, I received an advance review copy from the publisher, Minotaur Books, and from NetGalley. My thanks to them. And second, I myself am a fan of Egypt and Egyptian history, and thus probably predisposed to like The Return of Pharaoh, just for its setting and historical background alone. But I think Meyer does a great job making sure all readers have the background they need, and the book will appeal to Egyptophiles and non-Egyptophiles alike.