When it comes to certain eras in ancient history, tangible, irrefutable facts are few and far between. A lot of our knowledge about these people and their cultures comes from painstaking research paired with the educated guesswork of experts like N.L. Holmes, who writes in the historical notes that begin her latest novel, “We are entering one of the murkiest moments in Egyptian history.” (Well, Holmes, you certainly have my attention.) She and other scholars debate many aspects of this ancient civilization at the time in question, including the very identities of its monarchs — some of the most prominent figures in a society. So, “the novelist has to make some choices.”

Whether or not Holmes made the “right” choices is irrelevant; we’ll likely never know for certain all that transpired during the reign of the “Heretic King,” Akh-en-aten. Lake of Flowers, her fifth Lord Hani mystery, brings this era of ancient Egypt — and a few likely-fictional but no less engrossing crimes — to vivid life, gifting the reader a tale steeped in political intrigue, peppered with murder and garnished with one or two delightfully odd archaeological discoveries for good measure. (Like a wooden prosthetic toe!)

EGYPT CRUMBLING UNDER THREAT OF CIVIL WAR

Lake of Flowers begins with the death of the coregent, a man in his twenties who should have outlived the ailing king thus ensuring a smooth transition to his young heir. But the plague bows to no one. As the realm dons their white mourning scarves, Lord Hani, a diplomat, can’t help but think that this untimely death “is the first brick falling out of the edifice King Nefer-khepru-ra has built,” and he can feel the threat of civil war looming on the horizon. While Hani would love nothing more than to see the country return to its old ways and Amun-Ra restored, his position requires discretion when it comes to his personal politics. So, he must temper his joy and serve the king.

For now, that service demands an investigation of an odd series of thefts. Several items have disappeared from the king’s chambers only to reappear later. Perhaps, someone has merely misplaced the items and no crime has occurred at all: or maybe, these strange crimes are linked to a plot far more sinister than anyone imagines. Speaking of sinister plots, the people of Egypt may want to hold off on packing away those white mourning scarves, because the coregent’s death is hardly the only one to befall the realm before this story’s end. Secrets about the crown prince’s identity emerge and anyone who witnessed his birth seems to have a target on their back. 

SATISFYING MYSTERY WITH MEMORABLE CHARACTERS

Hani certainly has his hands full with this one, and navigating the opposing interests of the monarchy and radical revolutionaries won’t make the tasks ahead any easier.

Once again, Holmes has reconstructed an age shrouded in mystery with great finesse. While her work will no doubt satisfy those readers who pick up Lake of Flowers craving an exciting series of twists and turns, they’ll likely find themselves just as enthralled by the characters experiencing them. Hani’s position within the current government while also allied against it intrigues without question, but his relationship with his family is just as compelling. Still, as likable as Hani is, his daughter Neferet, a physician who treats the royal women, may just become the readers’ favorite. (She’s definitely mine.)

I cannot speak to Holmes’ archeological prowess; but if her skill unearthing ancient history is anything close to her skill writing about it, then I suspect academia, like her readers, has savored the fruits of her labor time and time again.


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N.L. Holmes is the pen name of a professional archaeologist who received her doctorate from Bryn Mawr College. She has excavated in Greece and Israel and taught ancient history and humanities at the university level for many years. She has always had a passion for books, and in childhood, she and her cousin (also a writer today) used to write stories for fun. She splits her time between Florida and northern France, where she gardens, weaves, plays the violin, dances and occasionally drives a jog-cart. And reads, of course.