The Pharaoh Key (Gideon Crew)
“Nobody blends together suspense, technology, science fiction, and fantasy, and converts it to an almost unbearably exciting adventure story like Preston and Child.”
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child live up to their reputation for page-turning, spine-tingling, seems-like-it-might-be-real technothrillers. The Pharaoh Key mixes archaeology, adventure, lost tribes, and Egyptian tombs with individual courage in just the right proportions to resemble the best of H. Ryder Haggard—if he had written as well as Preston and Child.
In what is heralded as the last in the Gideon Crew series, Gideon is coming to terms with his rare and inoperable condition that is slowly increasing in size deep within his brain, and the doctor predicts with kill him in two months. He is debating what to do that will make his last days meaningful when he receives a text from Manuel Garza.
Gideon and Garza have worked for EES, Effective Engineering Solutions, for years, risking their lives on many occasions. Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, Eli Glinn, owner of EES, shuts down the company and stops Gideon’s and Garza’s salaries and their expense accounts. Garza is incensed.
“After all those dangerous ops, after risking our lives half a dozen times, after all those years of hard work, this is the thanks I get?” Garza says, holding up his wrist with its gold Rolex.
Gideon and Garza meet at the deserted EES headquarters to clear out their desks. On the way out, a computer shrouded in plastic beeps. Curious, Garza investigates. The computer screen scrolls a message: “Phaistos Project Task Completed Time elapsed: 43412 hrs 34.12 minutes Solution follows.”
Phaistos Project refers to a disk found 1908 in the ruins of a Minoan palace on Crete. Its hieroglyphic figures have never been deciphered despite numerous attempts. Eli Glinn, desperate for money, set his computers to work to decipher the disk. After five years the computer found a solution, which Garza downloads onto a USB stick.
After determining the disk indicated a place rather than providing a written message, Garza and Gideon agree to hunt for whatever treasure is hidden in the secret location, convert it, whatever it is, to cash, and split the money fifty-fifty.
“I want to be crystal-clear about this: if it has value, we’re gonna steal it. Are you with me?”
Gideon reluctantly agrees. “What the hell. The worst that can happen is I have a few weeks to feel guilty about it.”
The first problem that faces the two is the location designated by the Phaistos Disk: the Hala’ib Triangle, Eastern Desert, Egypt, the most desolate piece of real estate on the planet, claimed by both Egypt and Sudan, and with zero annual rainfall and zero population. In fact, the particular area where the treasure or whatever resides is in a part of Hala’ib that is forbidden to all without exception.
The difficulty presented by location is not enough to deter Gideon and Garza. They have traveled to difficult and hostile environments before. The Hala’ib is definitely a challenge though.
Reaching Egypt the two claim to be first John Deere salesmen, then adventurers as they take ferries to first Suez, and then to Shalateen, the last civilized—sort of—outpost before traveling into the Hala’ib Triangle. Unfortunately, the last ferry they take sinks with over 500 men, women, children, donkey carts, chickens, cars, trucks, and other items on board.
Both survive, but without passports and with loss of some of their hoarded money. They meet up in an interrogation center where they are in danger of being held until the Egyptian investigation into the ferry wreck is complete. Gideon as the imaginative liar and people person, weaves a real whopper. He claims that he and Garza are undercover CIA operatives, and that the ferry wreck is a terrorist act.
The Egyptian officer buys the story, and Garza and Gideon are off to buy supplies and find the nearest rent-a-camel establishment, as camels are the only mode of transport that is effective in the rugged Hala’ib Triangle.
As soon as they make inquiries of the various dealers in camels, they are refused. Finally they reach Ibrahim Mekky, who happens to own six scruffy camels he is willing to rent. He also agrees to guide them to the Proscribed Zone.
Before Gideon and Garza finish haggling over price, a young woman interrupts and meets the highest price named by Ibrahim. Claiming to be a geologist, Imogene Blackburn agrees to share cost of the camels and allow Gideon and Garza to join her expedition to Hala’ib.
Garza doesn’t believe Imogene’s story. “Why isn’t she better prepared? Christ, we don’t even know her name!”
Garza is right to be suspicious. During the night rest period Imogene and Ibrahim disappear with the camels, the food, and most importantly, the water. Both Garza and Gideon are dangerously dehydrated when Imogene appears leading the camels. Ibrahim is absent.
The camels vanish during a sandstorm, and now the three travelers are on foot with no food and very little water in an area where the temperature can reach 120 degrees.
By sheer luck they stumble into a valley with a mist oasis, basically a fog created by moisture from the Red Sea that meets the high temperatures of Hala’ib. But it is water. Three will survive at least long enough to plan how to extricate themselves from the hellish Triangle.
But the valley of the mist oasis hides a deadly secret that might end Gideon’s life before his two month deadline as the three citizens of the 21st century meet those whose culture has remained almost unchanged for 3,500 years.
Nobody blends together suspense, technology, science fiction, and fantasy, and converts it to an almost unbearably exciting adventure story like Preston and Child. The only downside is the authors’ warning that this will be the last Gideon Crew book.
Say it ain’t so.