SHADOWS ON THE NILE
1912 London. Jessie Kenton hears her young brother, Georgie, scream in the middle of the night and wakes up the next morning to find him gone. Her parents never speak of him again.
1932. Twenty years later, Jessie is haunted by the same nightmare. Her other brother, Timothy, has inexplicably vanished from her parents’ home. Wracked by guilt because of her failure to ever find Georgie, and convinced that the two events must be related, she sets out on a quest to find Timothy. She plunges into a mysterious world of séances and mystics, nebulous clues and Egyptian artefacts. With the help of a dashing and impoverished aristocrat, Sir Montague Chamford, Jessie follows the trail into the alien, swirling sands of the Egyptian desert.
Kate Furnivall is one of my favourite authors and I absolutely loved her Russian novels, however Shadows of the Nile just didn’t work for me. The trouble is I’m not quite sure what this book was trying to be and it seemed full of ideas and themes which were never fully realised. The story begins with eight year old Jessie’s autistic brother, Georgie, being sent away, and then replaced by a boy of the same age called Tim. Jessie was the only one in the family who could deal with Georgie and she is devastated when he is taken from her, so much so it takes her long time accepting Tim as her new brother.
Fast forward twenty years, Tim goes missing and Jessie is determined not to lose another brother so she follows an obscure series of clues relating to Sherlock Holmes, and deduces her brother is in Egypt. Jessie is joined by Sir Montague Chamford who may or may not be involved in Tim’s disappearance and the pair soon fall in love. Jessie has never been in love before and her feelings for Monty change how she sees herself and the world around her, but the love story falls flat because there just isn’t enough chemistry between them. At the same time, there was never any doubt in my mind that Monty would come good in the end and his alleged association with the villain of the piece is simply brushed aside.
When you think of Furnivall’s heroines in her other stories, Jessie has a lot to live up to but I just could not muster enthusiasm for her plight and felt the story relied far too heavily on her not doing what she was told. Jessie got herself into one scrape after another when specifically told to stay put and would then have to be rescued which had me rolling my eyes on more than one occasion.
The Egyptian theme also disappointed me a little as I was expecting so much more from it and it seemed to take forever for the story to get there. When Jessie and Monty finally arrive in Egypt, they find themselves targets for the Muslim Brotherhood which is causing political turmoil in the country and endangering the lives of the colonialists still living there. The Brotherhood are determined to stop Egypt being stripped of her treasures and they believe Tim is one of those responsible, and this would have been a great theme if it had been explored more but it is quickly forgotten when Tim’s real motives are discovered. Before we know it, we’ve moved on to the themes of eugenics as the blue-eyed, blonde siblings discover they have been adopted by a father obsessed with fascism. More family revelations follow but I’ll let you find those out yourself.
Threaded throughout Jessie’s search for Tim, we are introduced to Georgie who has been growing up in an institution and is eventually found by Tim. The chapters dealing with Tim and Georgie’s budding relationship are actually quite moving as they are told by Georgie, and he has quite a unique view of the world. We soon learn Georgie’s mental illness made him unacceptable to his parents and was the reason why they were so eager to replace him with a son who fit their ideal.
There are a lot of themes jam-packed into the story but I would’ve been happier with just exploring the Egyptian themes of saving the treasures and getting out from under the influences of Europe. The eugenics stuff may have been fascinating and horrifying at the same time but it just felt too much for this story.