Bingo 4: New
Before I saw Disappearance of a Scribe in the library, I had heard of neither The Eye of Isis series nor its author Dana Stabenow. This is both a new to me series and author; it turns out this is actually book 2 of the series, but it seems pretty stand alone as well. What we’ve got is detective fiction in a historical fiction setting.
Due circumstances from the previous book which we mostly don’t need to know, Tetisheri has become the newly appointed Eye of Isis to Queen Cleopatra; she and Cleopatra are childhood friends and now Tetisheri is the Queen’s personal investigator. The case Tetisheri faces involves two bodies found in unusual but similar circumstances, possibly stolen library books, unlawful doings surrounding the possible discovery of a new pozzolan deposit, and all the political and historical goings on in Alexandria in 47 BCE.
There’s a reasonable bit of history involved, and it helps if you know some of it. By this point, Cleopatra has allied with Julius Caesar, and one of the first time we see her in person in the story, she’s holding Cesarion (her son with Caesar) who’s three months old at the time. There’s a handful of other Ptolomies, but only the one (besides Cleopatra) is actually present (that is living), and he’s a minor figure. Vitruvius also makes an appearance, although I have to admit it took me longer than I should have to figure out he was that Vitruvius, admittedly before he published De architectura. There’s also quite a few locations within and around Alexandria mentioned, and there’s very little reference to what those places are or why they might matter to the city; you’re apparently just supposed to know that. There are a few maps and a list of characters at the beginning, but those don’t seem to be that relevant to the actual mystery.
The investigation and mystery parts are fairly standard, but it does take a while for Tetisheri to really get things going; the first half of the book feels like world-building and preamble more than anything else. Once the real action stars, it never really comes together; the various threads both personal and investigative never really get combined; it’s just kind of back and forth between separate issues. Even the big get together and reveal in the end doesn’t help. The same thing happens with some of the character connections. Tetisheri is apparently a partner with her uncle in their successful trading business but we never see her in that capacity save one brief conversation with her uncle; it keeps getting mentioned but we never see that. Maybe it’s more a leftover from book 1, but still, it bugged me slightly. It makes sense that someone who works in trading would have connections needed to be an investigator, but I’d still like to see some of the evidence for that part of Tetisheri’s life as it keeps getting mentioned. I’m glad we don’t get too much of her and Apollodorus though; their mutual attraction is made clear, but it’s not too much of a distraction from the main story which is nice.
Tetisheri is clearly pretty good at finding things out but it’s also kind of funny that she tries to keep a big secret and when she has to tell her family and friends they nearly all already know. Her gathering of the urchin gang is pretty clearly a reference to Conan Doyle, although the circumstances are a bit different.
I guess the last bit of the world is how multi-cultural Alexandria is; this gets repeatedly mentioned. Even the street kids know Greek, Latin, and Egyptian (both spoken and at least some written). It’s too bad there isn’t space to get a little more into that.
Overall, I guess this qualifies a cozy mystery given the general lack of on-page violence etc; that’s not a bad thing, it just means that maybe for the next time, I won’t hope for as much detail or thoroughness.