This is not based on the weird ass Eddie Murphy movie from the mid 80s with that weird haunted sword or pipe or whatever it was.
Instead this is a kind of mystery, kind of comedy of manners taking place in a Natural History museum the night before a huge new opening. In this novel, several key figures circulate around the opening of a new exhibit that will introduce the world to the collected findings about an ancient civilization: Garamantia.
It has old burial vessels, pots, a strange hieroglyphic language, other assorted odds and ends. If it sounds like ancient Egypt, sure, but be careful because the Garamantian experts are sensitive about the comparisons and the sapping of resources by the Egyptology department.
This books deals a lot with the British fascination and cultural theft of early archaeology, how this led to deep and troubling feelings about grave robbing and colonization, especially as the empire began to wane. In addition, this exposes some of the missed and forgotten history, at least as an American, of the British role in the Cold War and how they interacted with Russian during the 1970s or so. It’s weird and different from the US, that’s for sure.
Over all, this is another perfectly ok book by Penelope Fitzgerald. I keep finding her books for free, and so I keep reading them. Maybe the kind of boring and not particularly profound nature of her work is why they keep showing up in free book bins.