First Line: “Lizzy, have you any news of Albert?”
The Scarab Heart is the 2nd book in Michael Gallagher’s Lizzy Blaylock series (I discussed the first book, The Bridge of Dead Things, here). There’s a lot to admire with this book, but it ultimately fell a bit short of the first book for my taste.
Things I liked:
The amount of research Gallagher incorporated is impressive. The Scarab Heart is a very nice blend of ancient Egyptian history/mythology and Victorian era culture. At times I thought it was a bit forced, but overall it was extremely well done and quite compelling. The setting of the novel is an Egyptian archeological dig where, thanks to Lizzie’s paranormal talent, an investigation of the murder of one of the dig workers overlaps with an ancient Egyptian murder mystery. I especially enjoyed how Gallagher used Egyptian history and mythology to suit the needs of his plot. I’m no scholar on ancient Egypt, but I knew enough going in that I was very impressed.
Things that didn’t quite work for me:
Lizzy seems to have lost a bit of her sassiness from the first book, and I think that’s a shame. Instead, she comes across as a bit more petulant and selfish as opposed to the self-confident, mouthy little girl from The Bridge of Dead Things. I never quite got 100% behind her in this one – I was never quite on her side. More importantly, the climax of the novel is telegraphed by this change in characterization in the opening pages of the novel, which left the end extremely predictable and, ultimately, flat.
I also found the narrative style of the novel problematic at times. The vast majority of the narrative is people sitting around telling stories about things that happened to them. The stories themselves are involved and active, but I found it difficult to get past the fact that most of the time this is a story about people telling stories. I found myself not knowing what or whom the narrative was actually focused on and not really caring about the storytellers. In the end, the multiple stories did come together, but they seemed to fight each other every step of the way until the final pages.
The Scarab Heart is a good book. While I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first in the series, in the end I did enjoy it.