The Lost Army of Cambyses by Paul Sussman

The combination of the legendary ancient mystery about the disappearance of a whole army in Egypt’s western desert in 523 BC, and a modern murder mystery caught my imagination. So I was attracted to reading The Lost Army of Cambyses by Paul Sussman.

The Lost Army of Cambyses is his first book, featuring Inspector Yusuf Khalifa of the Luxor police. It is an action packed adventure story, an easy escapist read, although the ancient mystery element definitely plays second fiddle to the modern murder mystery, with a terrorist plot thrown in the mix.

I enjoyed it. It began well, in Cairo, September 2000, where a mutilated corpse is washed up on the banks of the Nile at Luxor, an antiques dealer is savagely murdered in Cairo, and an eminent British archaeologist is found dead at the ancient necropolis of Saqqara. But as I read on I was less convinced.

Where the book came alive for me was through the character of Yusuf Khalifa, and especially the historical/archaeological aspects of the book highlighted in his meetings with his old teacher and mentor, Professor al-Habibi at Cairo’s Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. Khalifa had wanted to be an archaeologist, but circumstances had meant he’d been unable to complete his studies and he had joined the police force. However he had remained fascinated by the history of his country:

He remembered as a child standing on the roof of their house watching the sunrise over the pyramids. Other children had taken the monuments for granted, but not Khalifa. For him there had always been something magical about them, great triangles looming through the morning mist, doorways to a different time and world. Growing up beside them had given him an insatiable desire to learn more about the past.

… There was something mystical about it, something glittering, a chain of gold stretching all the way back to the dawn of time. (pages 100 – 102)

The other characters were less convincing, becoming stereotypical particularly the ‘bad’ characters, and the violence was a little too violent for my liking. But it still managed to keep me hooked and wanting to know how it would end.

I’d like to read more of Paul Sussman’s books – I much preferred his second book, The Last Secret of the Temple. I’ve yet to read the third book featuring Inspector Khalifa, The Labyrinth of Osiris. More details of his books are on Paul Sussman’s website, which is now being updated by his wife after Paul died very suddenly from a ruptured aneurysm in May 2012.

2 thoughts on “The Lost Army of Cambyses by Paul Sussman”

  1. Margaret – I’m glad that overall, you enjoyed this novel. I admit I’m not much of a one for a lot of brutal violence myself, but the setting of this one has got my attention. And the tie-in of history with modern times is interesting. I may well try this.

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  2. Hi Margaret,

    Following on from the series of books I have recently read by author Layton Green, one of which deals with matters of the occult and varoius sects and cults in Egypt, the character of Inspector Khalifa and the many faceted plot he finds himself embroiled in, sounds like a not to be missed opportunity and for me personally, the more violence and action the better, so long as it is not too gratuitous and only included as a means of filling the pages, rather than keeping the audience intrigued and turning the pages!

    Thank you for the honest and even handed review and for featuring this new to me author.

    Have a good weekend, despite the rather dismal forecast,

    Yvonne.

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