This was a chance find on the shop-soiled table in my local bookshop. The cover grabbed me because of the title—an Egyptian setting obviously, the Sphinx, and the ‘hero’—a Tintin-like character hanging onto the Sphinx’s nose. This is the sixth of a series of eighteen books (though according to some listings it’s the ninth) by Australian writer Geoffrey McSkimming, and features archaeologist–poet Cairo Jim who along with his ‘assistants’ Doris the Macaw and Brenda the Wonder Camel works at various dig sites and makes exciting discoveries. His patron is Gerald Perry of the Old Relics Society, and he also has a ‘good friend’, Joselyn Osgood, a flight-attendant with Valkyrian Airways, who appears occasionally (including in this one) helping him on his digs. Attempting to thwart his plans all the time is the arch-villain Captain Neptune Flannelbottom Bone. In this one, Jim patron, Mr Perry has left him instructions to dig at a site near the pyramid of Chephern at Giza but with no information on what he is supposed to be looking for. They later find that he has put them on the trail of clues left behind by Bathsheba Snugg, a founding member of the Old Relics Society, who had disappeared over forty years ago, and who was a translator of the writings of Herodotitis. Meanwhile it emerges that their nemesis Bone is dead and proof has been found. But of course, he isn’t really and when Jim makes an exciting discovery—a huge limestone floor which links to Pharaoh Amehetnehet—Bone puts into action his dastardly plans to discredit Jim’s findings, driving him underground (or rather into the Sphinx), and resurrect himself and his reputation.
When I started this book, I found it somewhat silly but soon enough I realised that this was probably to do with the way I was looking at it or expecting it to be—rather than only an adventure story this was also somewhat on the lines of a comic (as in a comic book/programme—like may be Scooby Doo or Penelope Pitstop), and when I began to look at it like that, I began to enjoy it far more. The book definitely has the feel of a parody or spoof though it isn’t wholly that either. The characters are pretty quirky—we have a macaw who reads, often quotes, Shakespeare, and can seemingly magically tell the time, and a Camel who reads Westerns and communicates with them telepathically, something neither Doris not Jim realises is happening, often thinking that the other has said something. The villain Bone is yet another of these, in fact much more than ‘yet another’—he is the classic comic book villain, all the way down to the ‘ha ha ha ha ha’ (I described him as such in my mind before he went ahead and actually did that) and the customary ‘arrrrhs’ as a Captain, thinking up dastardly plans. He also quite often speaks in alliteration, especially to his sidekick, a raven named Desdemona (for instance, ‘You blithering bundle of bunglingness!’).
The book has a fair few literary references/allusions which I enjoy in books but unlike say, the Lemony Snickett set (A Series of Unfortunate Events), many of the literary allusions/references in the book are more direct (mostly the Shakespeare ones). But then we do also have Desdemona the raven, who exclaims more subtly ‘Nevermore Nevermore Nevermore’.
Image source: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
But really apart from these, it wasn’t that I wasn’t having fun with the book initially because it isn’t often that one comes across a children’s book in an archaeological setting—this is probably the only one I’ve read—and with digs and such described quite genuinely (perhaps the comparisons with Agatha Christie that Wikipedia mentions are on this account) even if the clues etc., may sometimes again enter comic book/ parody territory. The discovery they make I thought was pretty interesting and a little more properly archaeological than comic (I could even see that kind appearing in a book for ‘grown ups’, though the latter would have much more explaining to do about the physics of it) That was something I quite enjoyed plus the fact that this was set in Egypt, and I’ll probably read anything in that setting.
So this turned out to be a rather fun read after all, albeit slightly on the silly side (but then, it is meant for children). And of course, it fit perfectly with my theme of Light-hearted and fun reads, and as a bonus, also threw up a quite nice little quote which will appear as my Bookquote next week. Good fun!