The Collector’s Daughter: A Novel of the Discovery of Tutankhamun’s Tomb by Gill Paul #NetGalley #ARCReview #KingTut

I have no idea where my interest in Egyptology started. Did Nancy Drew ever go to Egypt? I can’t remember, but archaeology and Egyptology have always fascinated me. Maybe it was in 1977-78, when King Tut’s treasures were exhibited in the United States and my brother’s Steve Martin record had the parody song on it. I was lucky enough years later to find the book that was sold during that exhibit. My favorite adult mystery series are the Elizabeth Peters Amelia Peabody Emerson mysteries, which take place in Victorian and Edwardian Egypt. I was lucky enough to see the King Tut exhibit about a decade ago when it was in Chicago at the Field Museum and bought the companion book and DVD and saved the newspaper article that alerted me to the exhibit.

An author I discovered last year, Gill Paul, writes about a lot of subjects that interest me. She’s written about everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Wallis Simpson to the Romanovs to Jackie Kennedy (see my review of Jackie and Maria here) Her latest book, The Collector’s Daughter (Amazon), is set during the 1920’s when King Tut’s tomb was first discovered. When NetGalley and William Morrow offered me an ARC of the book in exchange for an honest review, I jumped at the chance to visit the Valley of the Kings.

From Goodreads: “Bestselling author Gill Paul returns with a brilliant novel about Lady Evelyn Herbert, the woman who took the very first step into the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, and who lived in the real Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle, and the long after-effects of the Curse of Pharaohs. 

Lady Evelyn Herbert was the daughter of the Earl of Carnarvon, brought up in stunning Highclere Castle. Popular and pretty, she seemed destined for a prestigious marriage, but she had other ideas. Instead, she left behind the world of society balls and chaperones to travel to the Egyptian desert, where she hoped to become a lady archaeologist, working alongside her father and Howard Carter in the hunt for an undisturbed tomb.

In November 1922, their dreams came true when they discovered the burial place of Tutankhamun, packed full of gold and unimaginable riches, and she was the first person to crawl inside for three thousand years. She called it the “greatest moment” of her life—but soon afterwards everything changed, with a string of tragedies that left her world a darker, sadder place.

Newspapers claimed it was “the curse of Tutankhamun,” but Howard Carter said no rational person would entertain such nonsense. Yet fifty years later, when an Egyptian academic came asking questions about what really happened in the tomb, it unleashed a new chain of events that seemed to threaten the happiness Eve had finally found.”

What’s not to love about The Collector’s daughter? The story takes place along two timelines: first, the 1970’s, when Eve Herbert, sister of the Earl of Carnarvon, is recuperating from a stroke. Her husband, the most perfect husband, by the way, worries so much about her. Eve’s had mini-strokes before, apparently, but this is a bigger one, one that affects her motor skills and speech. While Eve is in recovery, she receives inquiries from a professor from the University of Cairo about the Tutankhamun dig in 1922, because Eve was there with her father, the Earl, who had funded Howard Carter’s attempts to find the tomb.

The second timeline goes back to the early 1920’s, and Eve’s life leading up to the discovery of Tut’s tomb. She absolutely adores Egyptology and her father encourages her, while her mother just wishes she’d pick some rich, titled man to marry. Her brother, Porchy, could care less. We meet Eve’s husband and wonder how in the world they ever got together because he seems so standoff-ish and remote. But as we discover, he’s Eve’s rock.

In the 1970’s. Eve’s trying to remember everything she can about the dig, and realizes there are some secrets that shouldn’t come out. Apparently the expedition broke into the tomb before the official opening and took some objects before the Egyptian authorities and Howard Carter’s team could catalogue everything. Eve picks a decorative gold box with strong smelling stuff in it. Carter calls it an unguent, which could be used in a variety of ways: as a poison, an ointment for injuries, etc. Eve’s father and Howard Carter also take some pieces from the dig before the official opening.

Also in the 1970’s while Eve is recuperating, the female professor meets with Eve several times, because another ancient document has come to light revealing that about 20 objects from Tut’s tomb were missing. And as Eve is the only remaining member of the expedition, she’s hoping she’ll remember what happened to all the missing artifacts so they can be given back to the Cairo museum. Eve remembers all except one thing: where she stuffed that horrible smelling box.

Throughout the book, there’s mention of the curse of King Tut, and Eve doesn’t believe, or doesn’t think she believes, but her father seems to think so. And then, as anyone knows from studying history, Lord Carnarvon dies shortly after the tomb is discovered. Even though Eve knows there’s no such thing as a curse, time and time again throughout her life, when bad things happen, she wonders if there really was such a curse. Then she’d realize that she was still living, so it is unlikely, until the next bad thing happens, and she starts wondering again.

There’s enough mystery, history, and story depth to make The Collector’s Daughter a hit for anyone who loves historical fiction, Egyptology, even Downton Abbey fans might want to take a spin since parts of this book take place at Highclere Castle. I can’t wait to read or listen to the rest of Gill Paul’s back catalog and get caught up on her excellent writing.

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