I hate – really hate – to have to return to JPatt for a cheap laugh, but… I am what I am. This week, Hachette released the paperback edition of Patterson’s The Murder of King Tut – a work of “nonfiction” written with Martin Dugard. The Library of Congress listing on the inside labels it as a “nonfiction thriller.” Hmmm. I wonder what that means…
The fierce and bellicose General Horemheb could not believe what he was hearing from this silly, useless pharaoh.
“We will not be waging war on our neighbors,” Akhenaten decreed, slouching in his throne.
The general should not have been cowed by the words of the pharaoh, but the intensity with which Akhenaten stared into his eyes was unsettling.
The Murder of King Tut has 100 chapters, spread liberally over 332 pages (including a Prologue & Epilogue, of course) and has handy excerpts at the end from JPatt’s upcoming novel Cross Fire (November 2010) and his next YA title, Witch & Wizard: The Gift (December 2010). I presume these are included because either he or Hachette is being honest about who’s reading the Tut book – and it ain’t egyptologists from Harvard.
In the Author’s Note, JPatt writes, “I don’t think I’ve ever done more research for a book.” Which is good, since it’s supposed to be nonfiction & therefore, true. Even then, it sounds like he sent poor Martin Dugard to Egypt for the “historical legwork” while he “lost (himself) in books and online research” from the comfort of his giant house in Florida. Here’s a sampling of what he came up with:
What must she be thinking, Tut wondered, lying flat on his back, his eyes adjusting to the near darkness. She has come to have sex with the pharaoh. Of course she is a virgin, so the mere act of making love is mysterious and frightening.
But to lie down with the ruler of all Egypt? With me?
Dictionary.com defines “historical novel” as “a narrative in novel form, characterized chiefly by an imaginative reconstruction of historical events and personages.” This seems an awful lot like what Patterson has done with his little King Tut book, except he has insisted upon calling it “nonfiction” to lend a greater deal of credibility to it.
Alright, if you’re being a jerk defending JPatt, you might ask, “Well, isn’t this just creative nonfiction?” True, “creative nonfiction” has gained serious traction as a genre in recent years – and I probably wouldn’t have read any nonfiction in the last decade if people didn’t start writing like that – but JPatt differs from the Eric Larsons, John McPhees, or Susan Caseys out there in his stretching of truths – not to mention his childlike writing abilities. What he has done with Tut is more in the vein of “speculative fiction” rather than anything related to the realm of actual, factual truth.
“It’s nothing new for histories to be speculative, but there’s a difference between guessing and basing a theory on cold hard facts. We chose the facts.” (from the Author’s Note)
What really bugs me is that while real anthropologists know the general sketch of Tut’s life & reign, but they certainly don’t know what his (or anyone else’s) conversations were like 3,155 years ago. I know Patterson’s financial arms are long, but unless he has commissioned a time machine, this book and its abundant dialogue reads ridiculous. How can you claim to use factual evidence to write a 300 pages of dialogue? This is actually called historical fiction, Jim.
I haven’t even mentioned the underlying thread to this piece of shit, either – that someone murdered Tut. The “cold hard facts,” such as they are. In 1964, x-rays of Tut showed what looked to be a skull fracture. In 2005, it would seem that this theory was debunked when a CT scan of Tut’s mummy revealed a broken leg but no evidence of a blow to the head or any other signs of violent trauma. It would seem that the break in the leg might have lead to sepsis or some other type of infection that, if left untreated, could have killed the pharaoh. Egyptian Vice Minister of Culture and renowned anthropologist, Zahi Hawass, stated “We don’t know how the king died, but we are now sure that it was not murder.” But hey, what do egyptologists know about this stuff anyway, right? Let’s get a bestselling novelist on the case!
Chapter 67 is one of a couple of chapters written in the first person & is set in Patterson’s home in Palm Beach, Florida:
Staring at (the list of pharaoh names), I began to think that I wasn’t studying a random act of murder but a cold-blooded conspiracy. There was that gut instinct of mine again – the reason, I think, that Time magazine had once called me “The Man Who Can’t Miss.”
Shit, let’s just leave it at that.