Tomb of Gods Author: Brian Moreland Publisher: Flame Tree Press Page count: 288pp Release date: 21st May 2020
I have adored everything Egyptian, particularly mummies, since childhood. I was first bitten by the proverbial scarab as a child watching Universal and Hammer Horror films, then as an adult I discovered the infamous Mummy trilogy with Brendan Fraser as well as lesser known films such as ‘Bram Stoker’s The Mummy’, which only vaguely resembles the book on which it is based. I fell in love with ‘Amara’ by Richard Laymon, ‘The Beetle’ by Richard Marsh, ‘The Mummy’ by Anne Rice and many more. So, when I heard about ‘Tomb of Gods’ by Brian Moreland – who I’d also heard good things about, I was very eager to read it. For starters, the glorious cover art in browns and golds, sings of the Nile. Egypt, 1935 For Dr Harlan Riley – the tomb of Nebenteru, Egypt, where countless soldiers and explorers were lost forever in their quest, is his proverbial ‘Holy Grail’. After entering the deep cavern, he is found one year later, wandering around Cairo, unable to explain what has happened to his missing team. He’s also covered in strange scars and talking gibberish. He is then interred at Hanwell Mental Hospital, visited by his granddaughter Imogen. Archaeologist colleague Nathan Trummel plans a return expedition to Cairo and the site of the tomb, guided by Riley’s diary, to find out what happened. Riley wants his granddaughter ‘Immy’ or Imogen to join Trummel on this quest, though it’s clear quite early that Trummel is keeping secrets from her.
The early set up in the mental institution is very reminiscent of Stoker – part ‘Dracula’ with Dr John Seward and Renfield, part ‘Jewel of the Seven Stars’. Then, once this second archaeological expedition begins, with Trummel exclaiming he wants to get to the tomb before the yanks and the Third Reich, the ghost of Indiana Jones and Salah hovers over the story.
The excitement is tangible.
The descriptions of Egypt’s “sea bejewelled with diamonds of light” and “shimmering heat” rising from sand dunes is hypnotic. If Moreland doesn’t make it with horror – and I sincerely doubt that – his imagery and skill for scene-setting would make him a great travel writer. I can literally feel the essence of Egypt seeping into my skin as I read this.
As for Imogen, she’s not a housewife or a secretary. She’s spent her life on digs and climbed Kala Patthar in the Himalayas and works for the British Museum as a curator.She’s smart, ambitious and passionate. Once she’s arrived at the dig (it’s 1937 now) and the other characters are introduced, including locals, a psychic, a photographer, students and a couple of mercenaries, the novel switches tone and it almost feels as though we’re reading a period ‘Aliens’ tie-in, with dark corners, lots of screaming and visceral remains, with a dash of ‘And then There Were None’.
In parts where the deeper tunnels are explored, the mood is creepy and atmospheric, at times making me jump. This is when the true exploration begins, as the troop push their way through various levels of the underground tombs, and battle untold horrors, plus their own guilt for previous sins, painful memories and face redemption or punishment. As they go further into the caverns, onwards and downwards, the horror becomes more grisly and macabre, channeling classic horror authors such as Stephen King, Brian Keene or Shaun Hutson.
There are some toxic male stereotypes in here which I wasn’t too pleased about, but given it is set in the 1930s, it’s unfortunate, but they may be accurate. However Caleb, the photographer makes for a more sympathetic male character and is very likeable, certainly much more likeable than Trummel.
The whole journey that the misfit group takes is like a descent into madness, complete with Tucker Bush Trials. Though there are truly grim parts, there are also moments of hope, and a satisfying ending.
To conclude, the amount of research into Egyptian lore, archaeology and mythology that Moreland must’ve undertaken is staggering.This is a true love letter to the tales of Mummies gone before. From Stoker to Rice, to Karloff and Brendan Fraser, this is very much a gruesome labour of love.‘Tomb of Gods’ must certainly be a horror award contender for 2020.