How was Phillips to follow up a debut as startlingly brilliant asPrague? By doing something completely different. His story, set mostly in Egypt in the early 1920s, stars Ralph Trilipush, an obsessive Egyptologist. Trilipush is more than a little odd. He is pinning his hopes on purported king Atum-hadu, whose erotic verses he has discovered and translated; now he must locate his tomb and its expected riches. Meanwhile, an Australian detective, for reasons too complicated to go into, is seeking to unmask Trilipush, who may have had some relationship with a young Australian Egyptologist who died mysteriously. Trilipush and the detective are two quite unreliable narrators, and the effect is that of a hall of mirrors. Where does fact end and imagination, illusion and wishful thinking begin? Phillips is a master manipulator, able to assume a dozen convincingly different voices at will, and his book is vastly entertaining. It's apparent that something dire is afoot, but the reader, while apprehensive, can never quite figure out what. The ending, which cannot be revealed, is shocking and cleverly contrived.
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