Excerpt: Murder In Mennefer by Al Sirois

“Murder in Mennefer is, broadly, a coming-of-age story. Imhotep loses his father in the first few pages of the book and must figure out a way to navigate his radically changed circumstances.”

“James Joyce famously said about Ulysses that if Dublin disappeared, it could be reconstructed from a copy of his novel. Fortunately, Dublin is still here, and while Mennefer is gone, Sirois has succeeded in rebuilding it in our imaginations. I was struck time and again by the intriguing scenes of quotidian life, such as the practice of sleeping on rooftops, the descriptive names of streets…” from a review at Small Press Picks


With a grunt, Imhotep hoisted his heavy cloth bag onto the deck of the cargo boat. Hands on his bony hips, feet splayed, he felt as buoyant as the boat rocking on the gentle swell of the river. The Nile snaked around the whitewalled city, holding Mennefer in its green embrace. Except for excursions to building sites with his father, Imhotep had seen little else of the world. Today, all that would change.

Last night, unable to sleep, he had crammed a few more poultices and papyrus scrolls into his already bulging sack. Who knows what dangers or discoveries await? Then, still restless, he paced the flat rooftop of his home, once again scanning the sky for a sign in the stars.

Though he and his younger brother, Sebhot, often made light of their mother’s propensity to fret, Imhotep couldn’t help feeling nervous. Omens and portents, messages from the gods, filled the air. One would be foolish to ignore them. All week he had prayed to Heka, the god of magic, and ibis-headed Thoth, who had revealed to men the arts of writing and healing, to beg for a sign promising good fortune for his voyage. But neither made a response until yesterday, when Imhotep had come to the riverside before dawn to pray once more.

That morning, Sopdet, the brilliant star that had ushered in the new year and the annual inundation a scant month ago, had been visible above the horizon for only a few breaths before the light of Lord Re’s glorious chariot obscured it. Not even the fishermen were yet at their nets, though smoke from cooking fires threaded the early morning sky, warning away the other stars as Lord Re took possession of the firmament. Disturbed by Imhotep’s approach, a duck burst up from the reeds. And then from nowhere a hawk dropped down on the smaller bird, seizing it in its sharp talons, bearing it off with a harsh scream.

Imhotep had shivered in the cool morning air. Birds…surely a sign from Thoth. But did it mean that I’m the hawk? Or the hapless duck?

That’s the problem with omens. They mean one thing when you see them and another once the foretold event occurs.

But this morning on their way to the dock his mother, Ankh-kherdu, known to all as Kherry, spotted a big white bird with a black head taking flight from a clump of reeds. Imhotep’s heart soared along with the ibis. Another sign, indisputably from Thoth! Now he looked up at the sky, where Lord Re had burned off the early morning clouds. A silky wind promised smooth sailing.

He closed his eyes.

Many thanks to you, O Thoth, who sees all things,

and seeing understands,

and understanding has the power to disclose

and to give explanation.

The sacred symbols of the cosmic elements

have you hidden away…keeping sure silence,

that every younger age of cosmic time might seek for them.

And now I go to seek them, O Thoth. Watch over me!

“Early, eh?” Thuya jostled Imhotep, tipping him off balance.


Thuya laughed. “Better get used to it. The Nile is not always so gentle.” At fifteen, only two years older than he, his friend Thuya already earned his wages as a sailor, respected enough by the captain to secure a berth for Imhotep. “You’ll see, when we reach the cataract.”

“Tep! Help me aboard!” Sebhot, somewhat shorter than Imhotep and heavy enough to be considered plump, waved from the dock.

“Nay, I’ll come ashore,” said Imhotep. Sebhot would have his own chance for adventure when he reached thirteen next year. Imhotep fastened his tunic tighter around his narrow waist and scrambled onto the dock.

“Two months is a long time. I’ll miss you, Tep.”

Imhotep clasped Sebhot’s chubby arms and swallowed hard. “I’ll miss you, too, and the City of the White Wall.” At Ankh-kherdu’s raised eyebrow, he added, “Yes, Mother, and you and Father as well. But Thuya assures me we’ll be back in time for the Festival of Thoth. I would not miss that.”

Sebhot’s voice dropped to a murmur so that their mother wouldn’t hear them speaking over the river breezes. “But you won’t miss Father’s shop, eh?”

Imhotep’s smile grew broader. “Not so much, no. I have no heart for business, like you.” This was the only cause of dissent between father and son: Kaneferw wished his eldest son to take over the master apprenticeship at the atelier, even though he already employed a talented assistant named Ahmose. Perhaps, after my return, Father will have changed his heart. Or I will find mine. Much can happen in two months. He glanced upriver for a glimpse of his father’s boat. Kaneferw was returning from the Fayum, where he was supervising construction of a retreat for the king, and had promised to be back in time to see Imhotep off.

Thuya left his three crewmates stacking goods in the vessel’s bow. Expertly shifting his weight to the swaying of the boat, he approached the knot of people above him on the quayside. “All is in order, we should leave soon,” he called up to them. “Lord Re climbs the sky and won’t wait for us.” He rubbed his hands together. “You’ll enjoy the voyage, Tep! The Island of the Elephant is a fascinating place too. So many exotic people there, with birds and beasts and plants the likes of which you have never seen. The markets! Ah, my friend, you may think of ivory and gold and animal skins, and they are there; but the scent of the fruits and vegetables!” He closed his eyes and swayed back and forth, nostrils flaring. “Precious oils, incense…I swear by Isis, you could live on the air alone. I can’t wait to be there again.”

Imhotep grinned at him. Just downstream of the First Cataract, the island boasted the mightiest fort on the river, protecting the southernmost border of the Two Lands where it met northernmost Nubia. The island’s location made it a natural cargo transfer point for river trade. Imhotep fairly danced with eagerness to be off on this, his first extended trip away from home. “As soon as my father comes, Thuya, we will say our prayers and I will be ready.”

A few paces away, Kherry spoke fretfully to old Chancellor Pepi, a longtime family friend. Imhotep overheard her say, “My husband should have been here by now.”

Imhotep exchanged a knowing glance with his brother. There she goes again. Always worrying, their tented brows said.


Murder In Mennefer will be published on June 18th, and can be pre-ordered now on the Regal House Publishing website, in paperback or special edition hardcover.  It can also be pre-ordered the on Amazon.
Al Sirois was born and raised in Connecticut, on the shore of Long Island Sound, in the 1950s. As a child he spent a lot of time at the beach, even in cold weather. Both pf his parents were readers, so he picked up the habit early.

He received a portable typewriter for Christmas when he was 11 or 12. It was useful for schoolwork, but what he really wanted it for was to write stories.

Al has published several other books, mostly science fiction, fantasy, and horror. He has also ghostwritten more than a dozen works of science fiction, fantasy, memoirs, and cozy mysteries. His short story In the Conservatory was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Al is also an artist, and has had hundreds of drawings, paintings, and illustrations to his credit, over a freelance career spanning 50 years.

He lives in Rockingham County, North Carolina with his wife and occasional collaborator, novelist Grace Marcus.

Al also play a mean kit of drums!

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