Disappearance of a Scribe by Dana Stabenow

(large plot shape spoiler)

Every review is in some ways a story of encountering a book. In some cases, as with Dana Stabenow’s Disappearance of a Scribe, it’s actually quite a long one.

A friend mentioned this book a few months ago as they were reviewing it. Me, a sucker for ancient murder mysteries, came close to demanding to borrow it. I got it, read a little and thought it read fine, then put it to one side as preparations for Wyrd & Wonder got under way. I immediately picked it up afterwards, leafed through a little, and found myself ho-hum.

Still, I needed gym reading. I took it with me to the exercise bike, read, enjoyed some parts but generally found the ho-hum feeling growing. Just as I was preparing to do without a book for the rest of the ride, I noticed a staff member trying to communicate with me through my headphones.

“How’s the book?”

We talk for a little and he tells me to let him know how it is, as he likes murder mysteries.

Well crap. Now I had to finish this. Which I did the next day, in circumstances I don’t think you want to know, and the ho-humness had turned into active exasperation and I wanted to be finished quickly.

People, eh? All this reading to avoid them, yet they go and have a big influence on a book anyway.

You’ve probably guessed I didn’t like this book all that much. Correct. But let’s talk about the good things and try and sell you.

It’s set in Ancient Egypt and does a good job of making that place feel like one you know. It’s customs, it’s politics, it’s inhabitants – all feel like the result of careful research without the author digressing too much to show off. The prose is smooth and quick-reading too.

The bad? Ah. Here comes a spoiler of sorts

Murder mysteries need interesting mysteries. That’s the make or break ingredient on the plate. Here the pacing is very bizarre, with very little being revealed for well over half the book – I think it took seventy-odd pages for the investigation to start – and then all of a sudden nearly everything is revealed. That’s quite a lot of clear up there and that’s the pacing that took me from ho-hum to active exasperation. Looking at reviews for the first book in the series, these slow first halves seem to be a thing for more than just me too.

Incidentally, I didn’t realise Disappearance of a Scribe wasn’t the first book in the series, although I did wonder at times as characters were reacting around each other in a way that didn’t make sense given what was in just this book. As that was part of why I felt the characters just weren’t very engaging, there seems a good possibility that I’d have liked this book more for having read Death of an Eye. However, I don’t think I’m being that unfair to note that shouldn’t be a huge factor given the murder mystery genre’s traditionally fairly easy going approach to readers picking up whichever book they find.

In any case, it wasn’t just the slightly perplexing reactions. There wasn’t any particular sense of personality to them. They weren’t bad, they were just bland. Did I understand why our MC and her gentleman suitor were so hot for each other? Not bone deep (tee hee). Nor did I understand why they weren’t doing something about it.

So there we go. Disappearance of a Scribe is best described as a well-written book on the sentence and paragraph level that completely let me down with its story structure and choices. It’s a huge shame. At least I’ll have something to talk about down the gym.

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