In 523 BC, the Persian pharaoh Cambyses dispatched an army across Egypt’s western desert to destroy the oracle at Siwa. Legend has it that somewhere in the middle of the Great Dune Sea his army was overwhelmed by a sandstorm and lost forever. Two and a half millennia later a mutilated corpse is washed up on the banks of the Nile at Luxor, an antique dealer is savagely murdered in Cairo, and a British archaeologist is found dead at the ancient necropolis of Saqqara.
The incidents appear unconnected, but Inspector Yusuf Khalifa of the Luxor police is suspicious, as is the archaeologist’s daughter, Tara Mullray. Lured into a labyrinth of intrigue, violence, and betrayal by a mysterious hieroglyphic fragment and rumors of a mythic lost tomb, what began as a search for the truth becomes a race for survival. Confronted by both present day adversaries and ghosts from their pasts, Khalifa and Mullray find themselves on a trail that leads into the desert’s unforgiving, burning heart, and the answer to one of the greatest mysteries of the ancient world.
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About the Author
Paul Sussman’s two great passions have always been writing and archaeology. He fulfills the former by working as a freelance journalist and the latter by spending two months of each year excavating in Egypt, most noticeably with the Amarna Royal Tombs Project in the Valley of the Kings. He lives in London with his wife. The Lost Army of Cambyses is his first novel.
Read an Excerpt
Cairo, September 2000
The limousine pulled slowly out of the embassy gates, long and sleek and as black as a whale, pausing momentarily before easing forward into the traffic. Two police motorcycles took up position in front of it, two behind.
For a hundred metres the convoy continued straight, trees and buildings slipping past to either side, then swung right and right again, onto the Corniche el-Nil. Other drivers glanced over, trying to see who was inside the limousine, but its windows were smoked and revealed nothing but the blurred silhouettes of two human heads. A small Stars and Stripes pennant fluttered on the corner of its front left wing.
After a kilometre the convoy came to a confused intersection of roads and flyovers. The lead motorcycles slowed, sounded their sirens, and pushed forward, leading the limousine carefully through the tarmac labyrinth and up onto an elevated carriageway where the traffic wasn't so heavy. The convoy picked up speed, following the signs to the airport. The rear motorcyclists leaned towards each other and began talking.
The blast was sudden and so understated that it wasn't immediately clear there had been an explosion. There was a muffled thud and whoosh, and the limousine bucked up into the air, swerving across the centre of the carriageway into a concrete wall. It was only when another thud, louder this time, rocked the stricken vehicle and a spurt of flame roared from its underside that it became clear this was more than just a road accident.
The motorcycles skidded to a halt. The limousine's front door flew open and the driver staggered out, screaming, his jacket on fire. Two of the riders smothered him with their own jackets; the others tried to reach the vehicle's rear doors, against the inside of which frantic hands were drumming. A pall of black smoke umbrellaed upwards into the sky, the air grew thick with the acrid stench of burning petrol and rubber. Cars slowed and stopped, their drivers gawping. On the limousine's front wing the Stars and Stripes pennant burst into flames and swiftly crumpled to ash.CHAPTER 2
The Western Desert, a Week Later
The driver let out a scream of exhilaration as his Toyota four-wheel-drive crested the summit of the dune and took off, hanging in the air like an ungainly white bird before thudding down again on the far side. For a moment it looked as if he might lose control of the wheel, the vehicle slewing downwards at a dangerous angle, but he managed to bring it back in line and, reaching the bottom of the slope, jammed his foot on the accelerator again, powering up and over the top of the next dune.
'Motherfuckingcocksucker!' he bellowed.
He roared on for another twenty minutes, music blaring from the jeep's stereo, his blond hair whipping in the wind, before eventually skidding to a halt on a high sandy ridge and cutting the engine. He took a drag on his joint, seized a pair of binoculars and got out, his boots crunching on the sand.
The desert was eerily silent, the air thick with heat, the bleached sky seeming to press down from above. He stood for a moment gazing at the untidy collage of dunes and gravel pans stretching all around him, a strange, unearthly landscape devoid of life and movement, and then, taking another drag on the joint, lifted the binoculars and focused them to the north-west.
A crescent-shaped limestone scarp curved across his line of sight, with a swathe of green oasis spread along its bottom. Tiny white villages were scattered among the palm groves and salt lakes, while a larger smudge of white at the western end of the cultivation marked a small town.
'Siwa,' smiled the man, exhaling a curl of smoke from his nostrils. 'Thank God.'
He remained where he was for a few minutes, running the binoculars back and forth, and then returned to the jeep and started the engine, the blast of its stereo echoing once more across the sands.
He reached the edge of the oasis in an hour, bumping out of the desert onto a compacted dirt road. Three radio masts rose to his right and a concrete water tower. A pack of wild dogs came yapping around his hubcaps.
'Hey, guys, it's good to see you too!' He laughed, beeping his horn and swerving the jeep to and fro, throwing up a cloud of dust and forcing the dogs to scatter.
He passed a pair of satellite dishes and a makeshift army camp before hitting a tarmacked road that carried him into the centre of the large settlement he'd seen from the dune-top: Siwa Town.
The place was all but deserted. A couple of donkey-carts clattered along the road and in the main square a group of women were clustered around a dusty vegetable stall, their grey cotton shawls pulled right down over their faces. Everyone else had been driven indoors by the midday heat.
He pulled over at the side of the square, beneath a high mound of rock covered with ruined buildings, and, retrieving a large manilla envelope from the back seat, got out and set off across the square, not bothering to lock the doors behind him. He stopped at a general store and spoke briefly to the owner, handing him a piece of paper and a wad of money and nodding towards the Toyota, then moved on, turning down a side street and stepping into a shabby-looking building with Welcome Hotel painted down the side. As soon as he entered the man behind the desk leaped up with a cry of delight and rushed round to greet him.
'Dr John! You are back! It is so good to see you!'
He spoke in Berber and the young man responded in the same tongue.
'You too, Yakub. How are you?'
'Dirty,' said the young man, patting dust off his 'I Love Egypt' T-shirt. 'I need a shower.'
'Of course, of course. You know where they are. No hot water, I'm afraid, but have as much cold as you want. Mohammed! Mohammed!'
A boy appeared from a side room.
'Dr John has come back. Fetch him a towel and soap so he can shower.'
The boy scampered away, his flip-flops slapping loudly on the tiled floor.
'Do you want to eat?' asked Yakub.
'Damn right I want to eat. I've been living off beans and tinned pilchards for the last eight weeks. Every night I've been dreaming of Yakub's chicken curry.'
The man laughed. 'You want chips with it?'
'I want chips, I want fresh bread, I want cold Coke, I want everything you can give me.'
Yakub's laughter redoubled. 'Same old Dr John!'
The boy reappeared with a towel and a small bar of soap, which he handed over.
'I need to make a phone call first,' said the young man.
'No problem. Come. Come.'
The owner led him into a cluttered room with a rack of dog-eared postcards leaning against the wall and a phone sitting on top of a filing cabinet. Laying his envelope on a chair, the young man lifted the receiver and dialled. It rang for a few moments before a voice echoed at the other end.
'Hello,' he said, now speaking in Arabic, 'could you put me through to ...'
Yakub waved his hand and left him to it. He returned a couple of minutes later with a bottle of Coke, but his guest was still talking so he put the Coke on top of the filing cabinet and went off to start preparing the food.
Thirty minutes later, showered and shaved, his hair brushed back from his sunburnt forehead, the young man was sitting in the hotel garden in the shade of a knotted palm tree, wolfing down his food.
'So what's been going on in the world, Yakub?' he asked, breaking off a hunk of bread and swirling it through the gravy around the edge of his plate.
Yakub sipped his Fanta.
'You heard about the American ambassador?'
'I haven't heard anything about anything. It's like I've been living on Mars for the last two months.'
'He got blown up.'
The young man let out a low whistle.
'A week ago,' said Yakub. 'In Cairo. The Sword of Vengeance.'
'No, he survived. Just.'
The young man grunted. 'Shame. Wipe out all the bureaucrats and the world would be a far healthier place. This curry is superb, Yakub.'
Two girls, European, rose from their table on the far side of the garden and walked past. One of them glanced back at the young man and smiled. He nodded in greeting.
'I think she likes you,' chuckled Yakub once they'd gone.
'Maybe,' shrugged his companion. 'But then I'll tell her I'm an archaeologist and she'll run a fucking mile. The first rule of archaeology, Yakub: never tell a woman what you do. Kiss of death.'
He finished off the last of his curry and chips and sat back, flies humming in the tree above his head. The air smelt of heat and woodsmoke and roasting meat.
'So how long are you here for?' asked Yakub.
'In Siwa? About another hour.'
'And then you go back to the desert?'
'Then I go back to the desert.'
Yakub shook his head.
'A year you have been out there. You come back, you get supplies, and then you disappear again. What do you do out there in the middle of nowhere?'
'I take measurements,' smiled the young man. 'And dig holes. And draw plans. And on a really exciting day I might take some photographs too.'
'And what do you look for? A tomb?'
The young man shrugged. 'I suppose you could call it that.'
'And have you found it yet?'
'Who knows, Yakub? Maybe. Maybe not. The desert plays tricks on you. You think you've found something and it turns out to be nothing. And you think you've found nothing and suddenly you realize it's something. The Sahara, as we say back home, is one big mother-fucking prick-teaser.'
He reverted to English for this and Yakub repeated the words, struggling to get his mouth around them.
'On beeg modder-fockin peek-taser.'
The young man laughed, pulling cigarettes and a small bag of grass from his shirt pocket.
'You've got it, Yakub. On beeg modder-fockin peek-taser. And that's on a good day.'
He rolled a joint swiftly and, lighting it, drew the smoke deep into his lungs, leaning his head back against the bole of the palm tree and exhaling contentedly.
'You smoke too much of that stuff, Dr John,' admonished the Egyptian. 'It will make you mad.'
'On the contrary, my friend,' sighed the young man, closing his eyes. 'Out in the desert it's just about the only fucking thing that's keeping me sane.'
He left the hotel half an hour later, the manilla envelope still clutched in his hand. The afternoon was moving on now and the sun had slipped away towards the west, its hue thickening from a watery yellow to a citrus orange. He strolled back through the square to the jeep, now filled with boxes of provisions, and, climbing in, started the engine and idled fifty metres onto the forecourt of the town's only garage.
'Fill it,' he said to the attendant, 'and the jerry-cans too. And put some water in the plastic containers. From the tap's fine.'
He threw the man the keys and walked a hundred metres up the road to the post office. Inside he opened the manilla envelope, pulled out a series of photographs, checked them, and then returned them to the envelope and licked down the flap.
'I want to send this registered mail,' he said to the man at the counter.
The man took the envelope, weighed it and, pulling a form from a drawer beneath the desk, began filling it out.
'Professor Ibrahim az-Zahir,' he said, reading out the name written on the front, enunciating it to make sure he had it right. 'Cairo University.'
The young man took a copy of the form, paid and, leaving the envelope, strolled back to the garage. The jeep, jerrycans and water containers were all filled now and, with a last look around the market square, he climbed back into the vehicle, started the engine and motored slowly out of the town.
He stopped briefly on the edge of the desert and glanced wistfully back towards the town. Then, switching on the stereo, he revved the engine and roared forward across the sands.
They found his body two months later. Or at least the remains of his body, fried to a crisp in the furnace of his burnt-out jeep. A group of tourists out on desert safari stumbled on the vehicle about fifty kilometres south-east of Siwa, upside down at the foot of a dune, a broken metal hulk with something inside it that passed for a human form. He had, it seemed, rolled the jeep while cresting the dune, although it wasn't a particularly steep dune and, curiously, there were other tyre tracks in the vicinity, as though he had not been alone when the accident happened. The body was so badly disfigured it could only be conclusively identified after dental records had been sent over from the United States.CHAPTER 3
London, Fourteen Months Later
Dr Tara Mullray brushed a strand of coppery hair from her eyes and continued along the gantry. It was warm up there under the lamps and a sheen of sweat glowed on her smooth, pale forehead. Beneath, through the ventilation holes in the tops of their tanks, she caught brief glimpses of the snakes, but she paid them no more attention than they did her. She'd worked in the reptile house for over four years and the novelty of its inhabitants had long since worn off.
She passed the rock python, the puff adder, the carpet viper and the Gabon viper, eventually coming to a halt above the black-necked cobra. It was curled in the corner of its tank, but as soon as she arrived it raised its head, tongue flickering, its thick, olive-brown body moving from side to side like a metronome.
'Hi, Joey,' she said, putting down the bin and snake hook she was carrying and squatting on the gantry. 'How are you feeling today?'
The snake probed the underside of the tank's lid, inquisitive. She put on a pair of thick leather gloves and also protective goggles, for the cobra could, and did, spit venom.
'OK, lover boy,' she said, grasping the snake hook. 'Medication time.'
She bent forward and eased the top off the tank, leaning backwards as the snake's head rose to meet her, its hood slightly distended. In one clean, choreographed movement she grasped the handle of the bin lid, scooped the snake up with the hook and, keeping her eyes on it all the time, dropped it into the bin and slammed the lid down on top. From inside came a soft slithering sound as the cobra explored its new surroundings.
'It's for your own good, Joey,' she said. 'Don't be getting angry now.'
The black-necked cobra was the one snake in the collection she didn't like. With the others, even the taipan, she was perfectly at ease. The cobra, however, always made her feel nervous. It was crafty and aggressive, and had a bad temper. It had bitten her once, a year ago, as she removed it from its tank for cleaning. She'd hooked it too far down the body and it had managed to swing round and lunge at the back of her bare hand. Fortunately it was just a dry bite with no venom injected, but it had shaken her. In almost ten years of working with snakes she'd never before been bitten. Since then she had treated it with the utmost caution and always wore gloves when she had to handle it, something she didn't do with the other snakes. She checked the lid to make sure it was secure and, lifting the bin, set off back down the gantry, manoeuvring her way carefully down a set of steps at the end and walking along a corridor to her office. She could feel the snake moving inside the container and slowed her step, trying not to jolt it too much. No point in disturbing it more than was necessary.
Inside the office Alexandra, her assistant, was waiting. Together they removed the cobra from the bin and laid it out on a bench, Alexandra holding it flat while Tara squatted down to examine it.
'It should have healed by now,' she sighed, probing an area midway along the snake's back where the scales were swollen and sore. 'He's been rubbing it against his rock again. I think we should leave his tank bare for a while to give it time to mend.'
She removed some antiseptic from a cupboard and began gently cleaning the wound. The snake's tongue flicked in and out, its black eyes staring up at her menacingly.
'What time's your flight?' asked Alexandra.
'Six,' replied Tara, glancing up at the clock on the wall. 'I'm going to have to go as soon as I've finished here.'
'I wish my dad lived abroad. It makes the relationship seem so much more exotic.'
Tara smiled. 'There are many ways you could describe my relationship with my father, Alex, but exotic isn't one of them. Careful of his head there.'
She finished cleaning the affected area and, squeezing a blob of cream onto her finger, smeared it along the snake's flank.
'While I'm away he needs to be cleaned every couple of days, OK? And keep up with the antibiotics until Friday. I don't want the cellulitis spreading.'
'Just go and have a good time,' said Alexandra.
'I'll call at the end of the week to make sure there aren't any complications.'
'Will you stop worrying? Everything'll be fine. Believe it or not the zoo can survive without you for two weeks.'
Tara smiled. Alexandra was right. She got too intense about her work. It was a trait she'd inherited from her father. This would be the first proper holiday she'd had for two years and she knew she ought to make the most of it. She squeezed her assistant's arm.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Lost Army of Cambyses"
Copyright © 2002 Paul Sussman.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Cairo, September 2000,
2. The Western Desert, a Week Later,
3. London, Fourteen Months Later,
5. Luxor, the Next Morning,
12. Northern Sudan, Near the Egyptian Border,
28. Luxor, the Theban Hills,
29. Luxor, the Theban Hills,
31. The Western Desert,
32. Luxor, the Theban Hills,
33. The Western Desert,
34. The Western Desert,
36. The Western Desert,
38. The Western Desert,
39. The Western Desert,
40. The Western Desert,
41. The Western Desert,
42. The Western Desert,
43. The Western Desert,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
FEATURES AN UNLIKELY HERO This book encompasses all the elements I look for: action, good characterization, a link to the past, an exotic setting, and a good storyline that brings it all together. It has all of this as rival groups attempt to leverage the discovery of the remains of a lost army of the Persian King/ Egyptian pharaoh Cambyses for their own ends. There are also plot twists that add spice. However, what makes this book unique to me is the author’s insight into the beauty and power of the desert and his introduction of an unlikely hero – at least unlikely or unfamiliar to most Americans. Inspector Yusef Kalifa of the Luxor police is a devout Muslim, a dedicated husband and father, a courageous but very humble man and a relentless opponent. Most American storybook heroes are not Muslim and are rarely devout, humble or dedicated to spouse and children. He is a good man not very different from what we strive to be from whom we can perhaps gain some insight from his view of religious fanaticism and Western culture. I regret that I did not discover Paul Sussman’s books before his death and that there will be no more than the four books he has written. I plan on reading the other three very soon.
English zoologist Tara Mullray visits her renowned Egyptologist father Michael at a dig only to find her dad dead. At approximately the same time, a black market antiquities seller is also found dead with his mutilated corpse lying by the Nile covered with cigar burns. Inspector Yusuf Khalifa of the Luxor Police Department is assigned to investigate both homicides. Because of the nature of their respective professions, two sides of the same coin, Yuseuf seeks a link between the murders. He quickly learns of a third facet when an elderly Cairo antiquities dealer is killed (with cigar burns on the body) in his shop, but nothing is stolen. Yuseuf interviews Tara who informs him that the excavation site where her father died contained the odor of cigar smoke. Soon the Egyptian and British politico take an interest in how much Yuseuf knows because terrorist Sayf al-Tha¿r lingers in the background. THE LOST ARMY OF CAMBYSES is a strong police procedural that interweaves archeological elements into the plot, but though engaging and educational never slows down the pace of the story line. The tale is at its luxurious best when Yuseuf investigates. The novel remains powerful even when the British embassy and the Egyptian Antiquities Bureau interfere with the inquiry due to a fear of Islamic Fundamentalist involvement. When the plot twists more into a thriller, it retains its excitement, but veers away from its prime theme of murder investigations at the Pyramids. Still this is a tremendous first dig into the mystery world by renowned archeologist Paul Sussman and hopefully he will provide more exciting tales for his faithful students. Harriet Klausner
This book is absolutely awesome. There's never a dull moment, and you get the feeling of being smack dab in the middle of Egypt as you read. The characters are well-defined and description of the scenery crisp and clear. Definitely a must read for anyone...beauty, horror, and thrills in Egypt! Sussman is a new force!
This story had 392 pages. In some places it draged along, but it didnt take long for the story to get moving. The end was the best, a great twist. I enjoyed this book and the author very much. I am on to the last book, cant wait.
Interesting and thought provoking! A great read for those who enjoy archaeological fiction.
The title and the cover art threw me off at first. This proved to be a really great book. The location was different and the characters kept me guessing until the very end. Don't look at the end of the book or you will ruin it. I was totally surprised about the character who also proved to be a villain.I guess it shows that what is the most obvious is not always true. The book has plot within plot and the ending was a real surprise. Give it a try, I think you will be very surprised and it makes a great summer read.
Paul Sussman is a great author. His novels are a mixture of action, adventure, and historical archeology. This book was fast paced and difficult to put down.
Just a little much on the Deus ex machina, but the action and characters kept it enjoyable.
Great Read!!Puts raiders of the lost arc to shame!!Its so now.Couldn't Put it down. I will buy every one of his books and I usually like period romance suspence. So take it from me You'll love it.
This last novel, involving the 2 'friends' from the past, was FANTASTIC. I was sorry to finish it. I hope to read more books by Paul Sussman soon!
What is it with this constant complaint about Harriet? You don't understand that most professional reviews contain elements of the story line? If you think her reviews spoil the story, why not simply pass on reading it? I guess if you see a movie trailer the movie is spoiled? If I told you the Confederates lost the War Between the States, would that spoil Gone With The Wind? Mark A
It's a good weekend escape.
Great potential but fails to deliver. Too much gratuitous violence and juvenile character development. Deus ex machina ending, and improbable scenarios.