Egypt: The Book of Chaos

completes Nick Drake’s mystery trilogy set during the 18th dynasty.

How has your experience as a movie producer and poet influenced your novels?

Film has shown me ways to structure my novels as intense emotional dramas set against epic, dramatic panoramas. But also it’s made me think about how I write characters—they have to have a lot at stake, both privately and in the bigger world—and I like them to have real style in what they say. Above all, I want them to feel as if they’re living in their version of the present tense. As far as they’re concerned, they’re the most modern people ever to have lived. Poetry has influenced the novels’ handling of deep matters of love and loss and the complexity of the characters’ emotional life. Also, it matters to me that the sentences read well, and it matters to me to find freshness in the images and metaphors. They’ve both taught me that less is more in writing.

How did the series originate?

I read about Nefertiti’s disappearance. That was fascinating to me; the most charismatic queen of the ancient world disappeared? How? Why? What happened to her? And then I thought, if she disappeared, someone must have been sent to find her. And so Rahotep came into being—one of the world’s first detectives. And then, the more I discovered about the 18th dynasty, the more its glories and characters, world political domination, and collisions of staggering affluence and overwhelming poverty came to seem a world I wanted to recreate, because it resonated so powerfully with things we’re still living through and struggling with today.

What fictional detectives does Rahotep resemble?

Rahotep loves forensic detail, like Sherlock Holmes. But he’s a very emotional detective—he tries to follow the clues of the heart, not the drawing room. He’s also a bit of a private eye, a bit of a loner, like Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer. He keeps his conflicted feelings well hidden. Like Philip Marlowe, Rahotep is a man of the city, he likes the dark back streets, but has to operate also in the palaces of power, for which he feels a certain contempt. And he’s compelled by cryptic mystery. He can understand how pain drives people to commit acts of evil. He’d also probably survive in James Ellroy’s Los Angeles.

Why the subtitle?

The Book of Chaos is about what happens at the end of a great dynasty, when the structures of society fall apart—but this also applies to what happens to Rahotep emotionally in the course of the story.