Book Review – The Murder of King Tut by James Patterson

~ Thursday August 25, 2011

James Patterson has had a book on The New York Times Bestsellar List for as long as a I can remember.  I cannot recall the last time that I have been browsing the Top Ten at the bookstore where his name hasn’t appeared on at least one, if not more then one of the titles there.  I have friends who swear by him, and have purchased every single piece of “literature” the man has ever put out.  He has written books that have been turned into movies that I actually enjoyed “Along Came a Spider” and “Kiss the Girls”, and I have admiration for the fact that he is heavily involved in literacy campaigns for children. Knowing all of this about the man, perhaps it is odd that as an avid reader, I have never picked up one of his books until now, but I have this preconceived notion of his writing being “cookie cutter-like”.  To me, any author that can crank out a book every 6 to 8 months, writes by a methodology that gives all of their books the same kind of spin.  Like a romance novelist, without the romance.

Last week I was in Chapters and I crossed by one of his latest endeavours in paperback edition entitled “The Murder of King Tut”.  Back intro “Master of suspense James Patterson explores the greatest unsolved death in history”. Now I am a huge nerd when it comes to all things Pharoh and Pyramids, and have long believed that the death of King Tut and the opening of his tomb were a fantastic conspiracy theory, so I thought, why not?  Without even trying Patterson captured my interest by title and back cover introduction, and if I was ever going to give him a whirl, this seemed to be a good fit.

The book moves back and forth between three different time periods.  Modern day. This is Patterson talking to his editor about why he is intrigued by the young kings death, and how he wants to put all of his other current projects on hold and write this one because he “feels passionate about the story” and is enjoying the research.  I didn’t understand the reasoning behind throwing in the authors “real life” perspective mid-story. Having never read a Patterson novel before, I am not sure if this is characteristically done throughout all of his books or whether it was done specifically for this story, but it was quite bothersome and unnecessary.  It broke up the story and gave it a disconnected flow.  I didn’t buy the book to read about WHY Mr. Patterson wanted to write it.  This information could have been better presented in a Prologue or Epilogue, something far less distracting.

The second time period covered the life of Howard Carter in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  Howard Carter is the man who dug up Tut’s tomb back in 1922.  Written in third person, it appears as though the events were factually portrayed (evidence that Patterson did his research) and the storyline for Carter was enjoyable and I found myself hopeful for, the dig and the man himself  in his quest for Tut, which covered a 31 year time span.  As a reader I developed a liking for Carter and his persistence. It wasn’t difficult to picture yourself in Egypt, as a part of the site, or to join in the excitement of being the first person in 3000 years to break the seal on a tomb. Patterson took some time to develop the back story of Carter, emotional interest from me the reader and therefore a firm resolve to turn the page.

The final time period follows the reign of Tut’s time as Pharoh.  The time just before him taking the throne, till the time of his death and slightly beyond. The actual way of life was well researched, and historically Patterson portrays the time period accurately by all accounts as far as I can tell, but I could have found the same information in any high school history book.  The whole reason I was drawn to the book, was a continued curiosity for King Tut, but the development of Patterson’s Tut was such that, I wasn’t sad when Tut was killed. Even when some of the other characters were “shockingly killed off”, couldn’t have cared any less. I realize most would say that is because I already knew the way the story would end, he dies, but it was more then that. My theory on “cookie-cutting writing” fits about right.  You can have an amazing idea, you can pay someone to do accurate research (which was clearly done), but if you don’t take the time to develop an emotional attachment to your characters or to spin an interesting storyline, one that us UNIQUE to your story, then what is the point?

I will give the book one thing.  It was a very easy read.  332 pages were consumed over a two night period with ease.  However, I am afraid (although could be convinced otherwise) that this will be my first and last James Patterson novel, and I am okay with being the minority on that one.  I mean six million book in print copy alone are proving me wrong.

The Murder of King Tut