My thanks to NetGalley and Europe Comics for a review copy of this book.
This is a graphic novel and first in series featuring Renée Stone, author of detective fiction, who arrives in Ethiopia (then, Abyssinia) along with a number of other “hand-picked Europeans” in October 1930 to witness the coronation of the last Emperor Haile Selassie I. As she is getting off the train after a twenty-hour journey, she meets archaeologist-epigraphist John Malowan, who is immediately smitten by her. She herself is interested in his friend/travelling companion, Theziger, a dashing explorer. Once there, she also bumps into a critic and author Graham Gray (obviously, a play on Graham Greene, even down to his book “No Reply from Istanbul”), who seems to enjoy bringing up the more painful aspects of her life. Meanwhile, John takes her to meet his family (who think she is his wife), and there she is given a Mesopotamian cylinder, belonging to John’s grandfather, Hormuzd Rassam, also an archaeologist. This is just the beginning of an adventure as it is soon clear that there are some sinister elements after John, to do with his family and especially his father, who seems to have been a smuggler/dealer in artefacts. This takes them to an elephant sanctuary and to Lalibela, where at 8,200 feet above sea level, a replica of Jerusalem had been built, and puts them in a situation where they do not know whom to trust. With John being quite a scatterbrain, it is up to Renée to take charge and get them to safety.
I chose to read this one since the description made it sound very much like the characters were based (loosely) on Agatha Christie and Max Mallowan, a successful detective novelist and an archaeologist coming together to solve a mystery. While I was expecting this to be somewhat of a whodunit, it didn’t turn out to be one, but was more on the lines of a thriller of sorts in an archaeological setting, with elements of mystery and murder. I liked that the book incorporates a real historical event, the coronation of Haile Selassie and historical characters—Hormuzd Rassam was real, and I also enjoyed learning about Lalibela, also a real location. The concept of the story was interesting, and I liked (as I usually do) the archaeology setting, and the fact that this turns into a quest for a lost treasure (which will continue in the next volume). Also, I liked how the book based its characters on Christie and her Husband and brings in Graham Greene (though I don’t think there’s more than a basic similarity). While I found the story enjoyable, it (and the characters) somehow didn’t grab me as much as I had thought from the description that they would. Still, this was a quick read with a subject and setting that I enjoy, and the fact that the next leg of the adventure will take us to Mesopotamia, certainly makes me want to pick up the next volume.