Holmes gears this adventure toward serious fans of adult mystery and accurate Egyptology, but readers unfamiliar with Egypt’s New Kingdom period will find the closing historical note and glossaries of names and places) extremely helpful. Fans of the genre will notice parallels between Hani’s voyage and popular Ancient Egyptian mysteries featuring a mid-tier official of the king with a sidekick who, like Maya, is a dwarf. But, though these similarities are hard to ignore, Holmes’s clearly well-researched plot and characters—including her more egalitarian treatment of dwarfism—do much to distinguish this book from its predecessors.
Hani and Maya are instantly likeable protagonists, and there are enough twists, turns, and court intrigues to satisfy all lovers of historical mysteries. Holmes’s writing is simultaneously colorful and informative, blending vivid depictions of Hani’s surroundings with subtle cultural histories presented mostly without judgement. Readers will find it hard to put down this tale of ancient intrigue.
Takeaway: Diplomatic intrigue takes center stage in this absorbing and historically accurate Ancient Egyptian mystery.
Great for fans of: P.C Doherty, Lynda S. Robinson, C.J. Sansom.
Design and typography: B+
Marketing copy: B+
Bird in a Snare: A Lord Hani Mystery N. L. Holmes WayBack Press, 426 pages, (paperback) $14.99, 979-8641650951 (Reviewed: August, 2020) The pseudonymous N.L. Holmes’ first installment in her Lord Hani mystery series is set in pharaonic Egypt (approx. 1350 BCE) and revolves around an aging diplomat serving King Amenhotep III. His mission is to solve the murder of a bandit leader who played a key role in the king’s foreign policy. Before his assassination, Abdi-ashirta headed a group of outlaws that roamed the northern boundary of the empire and sought to be recognized as king of that region. Because of a complicated political web of leaders and relationships, the king had wanted Abdi-ashirta alive. Now he tasks Hani with finding the killer. The list of the dead man’s political adversaries is long, but when Amenhotep’s not unforeseen death and the ascension of his son throw the entire realm into chaos, Hani’s quest for the truth turns into one of survival. Although the storyline is fueled by the impressively complex mystery, the novel’s real power is in Holmes’ meticulously described historical setting and her ability to create a cast of deeply portrayed and emotionally connective characters. Hani, for example, has a disabled daughter who was paralyzed in a freak accident disembarking from a boat, a firstborn son who has completely disregarded his teachings and dishonored the family name, and a devoted secretary who is a dwarf. Hani’s sensitivity and insight dealing with their respective issues deepens his character and makes the story more immersive and authentic. Also, the author’s use of avian imagery throughout creates a subtle symbolic thread that inserts an additional layer to an already multi-tapestried read. The one criticism is in the story’s unhurried pacing. Hani is traveling for much of the story—en route from one location to another—and although these sequences are appealing from a world-building perspective, they dampen narrative momentum and decrease page-turning tension. Nevertheless, this is a highly compelling start to what could be a wildly successful mystery series: Hercule Poirot in ancient Egypt. Also available as an ebook. --BlueInk Review
Rating: 5/5; Highly recommended
Politics is a deadly game in the days of Kings and their competing 14th-century Egyptian factions. Official diplomat, Lord Hani, is on a royal assignment when he discovers even the king's motives are suspect. Hani begins to fear for the welfare of his family and himself, as he gets a sinking feeling that the hunter has become the hunted. He's the live bait, the Bird In A Snare.
Can Lord Hani find out who is responsible for the mysterious assassinations and the shifting armies' alliances before becoming the one they target next?
The sands under the royal family's feet are precarious. The investigation must be thorough but also quick. There is no time to waste in this seething era where a wave of change could bring dire consequences. Lord Hani knows he must stop the murderer to save himself and his family, but can he also act to protect the larger target, the fate of the Egyptian New Kingdom?
Lord Hani is summoned by the king to the Royal Palace and assigned a secret, specific investigation to complete on his majesty's behalf. The king suspects not only murder but also betrayal. He decries what he sees as political manipulations that touch pockets of power, self-serving coalitions, and religious beliefs. The king knows not all his countrymen are honest, but he trusts Lord Hani. For help, Hani turns to his young secretary Maya, who is eager for adventure and dedicated to serving Lord Hani to his utmost capability. This mystery will undoubtedly test his skills. If he impresses, will he have the courage to voice his love for his boss' daughter, and ask for her hand in marriage?
The extensive travel required to visit scenes of crimes and associated places of interest takes a prolonged time by boat and overland, leaving Lord Hani's family unprotected. He's concerned for the safety of his children and wife in his absence. There is good reason to worry. Threats arise from people of the royal court, and also people from the uprising new religion. A risk even exists from within Lord Hani's own family, namely, his eldest son. Time is not on his side as Hani and his secretary Maya follow clues, interview suspects, and analyze motives. The action reaches a crescendo, and Lord Hani will have to confront his most dreaded fears.
Bird in a Snare by N. L. Holmes is beautifully descriptive, with details that bring the historic period and the fascinating characters to vibrant life. Suspense builds as an intricate web of intrigue is spun. Readers will be delighted to learn that this is the first of a series set in the ancient Egypt of Akhenaten's reforms.
“A rich, authentic mystery set in ancient Egypt brought by one who knows her stuff. Archeologist, N.L. Holmes offers up a political thriller that will have readers clamoring for more. One of our new favorites. Highly recommended!” 5/5 stars
In this historical mystery, a murder tests an Egyptian diplomat’s loyalties—to his family, those he serves, and allies he’s made throughout his career. In the 1300s B.C.E., Abdi-ashirta is a leader in multiple territories that border the Egyptian empire, and his presence there has maintained a fragile peace. His mysterious murder creates regional instability, mistrust, and no shortage of work for diplomat Hani and his scribe, Maya, who are tasked with the investigation. Together, the pair travel extensively to question implicated parties only to uncover deeper scandals, lies, and a distinct unwillingness to incriminate others. A collection of suspects emerges along the way: Aziru, Abdi-ashirta’s son, ascends to power because of his father’s murder; Commissioner Yanakh-amu and Lord Yapakh-addi both have political and monetary motivations to eliminate Abdi-ashirta, but they also have alibis. Complicating matters further is the death of the king of Egypt and his replacement by his son, Akh-en-aten, who immediately begins imposing significant cultural reforms and casting aside long-held alliances; he also has a possible motive for ordering Abdi-ashirta’s murder. Still, Hani’s steadfast loyalty to his family, to his work, and to the kingdom are his constants—until the new reforms put his family at risk. Meanwhile, his eldest son and heir becomes enchanted with Hani’s rival, who works for the new king. Hani’s growing internal struggle is a recurring theme throughout the novel, which is precisely what makes him useful as a diplomat; Holmes succinctly describes his mindset: “You make the mistake of actually caring about the people you deal with.” The author’s background as an archaeologist results in vivid descriptions of the ancient settings, customs, and characters, and he provides a helpful glossary of terms for readers unfamiliar with the setting. He also includes a character list, which is necessary, as the story introduces new players at a sometimes-dizzying pace. The book could have also benefited from more descriptions of the threats that the new king’s cultural reforms pose to his citizens. However, the central mystery contains abundant twists, which lead to a satisfying and surprising conclusion. A fine mystery tale that explores the relatable troubles of a conflicted investigator. --Kirkus Review