The Pharaoh Key – Preston & Child Thriller

The Pharaoh Key by Preston & Child (2018)

Having recently finished another Preston & Child story titled ‘Beyond the Ice Limit‘, Rebel Voice decided to give the pair another chance to redeem themselves. Big mistake. The Pharaoh Key is more of the same, only even more cliched.

Gideon Crew is into the last few months of his life. He has a rare brain tumour that’s inoperable. His former employer, EES, led by Eli Glinn, has ceased to operate with no explanation given. When Crew runs into Manuel Garza, yet another embittered former employee of EES, the pair decide to set out on an adventure (the last for Gideon?) to discover what ancient treasures are awaiting discovery at a newly revealed location in Egypt that only they know about.

Just getting to the site proves to be an ordeal. They are attempting to avoid detection by Glinn who has an interest in what lies beneath the sands. Upon booking passage upon a ferry, they run into disaster when the vessel sinks with a massive loss of life, but not theirs. Honestly, these two are so unlucky. What are the odds that the boat that our two heroes set out on will sink? Who would want to be within a hound’s gowl of either Gideon or Manuel? Any country these two enter should put out a health advisory to stay clear of them.

When they eventually reach the village from which they intend to set out to find the ‘lost’ place of the ancients, they meet with a beautiful, young English archeo-geologist, Imogen Blackburn. Imogen is also determined to enter what is a prohibited region known as the Hala’ib Triangle (real place and curious), a mountainous tribal area that remains unexplored. But whereas both Gideon and Manuel are after riches, denied them on previous expeditions with EES, Imogen is interested only in scientific exploration. Or is she?

You would be forgiven for wondering, yet again, what are the odds that an intelligent, Arabic-speaking, knowledgeable young English woman would appear just as both men are setting out on their journey into the unknown. Hmm…

The path to the mountains is fraught with danger and the small expedition (they have joined forces) finds itself in trouble shortly after setting out. It seems that you just can’t trust those wily Arabs. Rebel Voice expects that it’s good justification for bombing the shit out of them. Perhaps White House advisers read Preston & Child? Yet westerners are tenacious and the trio doggedly battle against the elements to reach what is, essentially, an Egyptian Shangri-La. And there you have the problem with this book. It has absolutely no originality.

What follows is a cross between James Hilton‘s 1933 classic, Lost Horizon, and H. Rider Haggard‘s She and King Solomon’s Mines. Whereas the plots of the originals could be forgiven any holes, this book cannot. Yet there they are. You could drain pasta with The Pharaoh’s Key. Tribal dances, ceremonies, armed combat, arranged marriages, a tomb full of gold and diamonds and ancient writings. Jaysus but it’s all there. Perhaps the only difference from what has gone before is that the authors introduce the idea that monotheism was first conceived by the Egyptians. This idea was then adopted by Moses, who was Egyptian, and exported.

This is an interesting premise and one which deserves consideration. Amenhotep IV, who ruled circa 1348, introduced the religious concept of Atenism which did elevate the worship of a single deity, the sun, above all others. He then went a step further and declared Aten to be the only god of the Egyptians. This predated Judaism by quite some way, although is regarded as monolatry, the elevation of one god above others that still are believed to exist. Atenism is still being investigated. It should be noted that circumcision was practised in Egypt around 2400 BCE, and was believed to have existed before that in other earlier cultures.  It could be argued that Judaism is directly descended from the religious beliefs of Amenhotep IV, long since gone underground by the time Abram (Abraham) entered Egypt. Contentious?

So there you have it. The one offering of note that The Pharaoh Key has is a nugget regarding the founding of monotheism. Outside of that, nada, zip, zilch. The treatment of the three western adventurers by the tribe is formulaic and boring. The attempt to steal the treasure laughable. The action is constant but predictable and, at times, the plot is stretched thinner than an ageing Hollywood actor’s face. The conclusion leaves the door open for a sequel to this tale. God help us all if they decide to write it.

Rebel Voice will make a prediction. Preston & Child penned a sequel to Ice Limit, previously mentioned. They said it was due to fan demand. The review for this can be read here:

The same reasoning will be used to justify another money-earner in this lame story-line. Gideon Crew now has only weeks at most to live but something will happen to change that. He will feel subsequent and drastic improvements as he has eaten the magic lotus, or he will discover that he does not in fact have only a short time to live as the doctor was in the employ of Eli Glinn. However they do it, it will be farcical.

The Pharaoh Key is a mundane presentation of a great but overused story-line. Egypt grips us like no other. Pyramids, secrets, treasures, sands dunes and mummies, they excite our imagination. But what is contained in this book has already been done, and much better. It’s unfortunate that not one but two lauded authors were unable to come up with anything better than what was put forth in The Pharaoh Key. Rebel Voice views this book as a cynical means of enticing money from the pockets of hard-working readers in search of an adventurous thriller.

Sult scale rating: 4.5 out of 10. The settings are great but cliched. The characters are stereotypes. The plot is formulaic. If you want great stories of adventure in Africa, then read She and King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard. If you want a story about a lost civilisation, then dive into Lost Horizons by James Hilton. Give Preston & Child a miss with this one as it will make you weep with frustration, gnash your teeth with disappointment and perhaps laugh sardonically. There are better ways to spend your time.


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