I'm about to make a pretty bold statement here. Layton Green's The Egyptian is the strongest, best written indie book I've ever read. Now, it's not my favorite indie book, I prefer a bit more humor in a book, but the basis of pure technical writing skill, on the ability to craft a story and have it hang together, The Egyptian is the best one I've seen so far.
What makes the Egyptian so great?
Let's start with the characters. Dominic Grey, the leading man, is back from The Summoner, older, and a bit wiser, and ready to start on something new. He's working for Viktor now as a full time investigator of situations where religion/cults and the real world mix in unfortunate ways. And, while Dominic isn't stupid by any stretch of the imagination, he is, in this partnership with Viktor, the muscle man. He does the legwork, the investigation that involves going to scary places and dealing with creepy people, and occasionally showing us that Jason Stratham has nothing on him when it comes to martial arts. Which brings us to Viktor, who is still my favorite of the crew, who is for lack of a better term, the brains. Viktor is the Religious Phenomenologist, the guy who actually knows what they're looking for. Dominic finds the pieces, Viktor puts them together. New to The Egyptian we get to meet Veronica, who is basically a Bond Girl. If you've ever read/seen a James Bond story, you will understand her role in the book. (Look good, move the plot along, have sex with the hero). Lastly, Jax, also new to the cast, adds an extra layer of brightness to the story with his jaded character and devil may care attitude. (He put me in mind of a mercenary version of Han Solo.) These four very different characters are expertly balanced throughout the story to keep the plot running, the tension high, and the reader caring about what happens next. Getting to spend time with them is a joy.
From there we go to the plot. The Egyptian is solid. Each aspect of the book makes sense, each scene flows into the next, there are no moments of wishing someone with a delete button had gotten a hold of certain bits, and no sudden wondering what happened in a given scene. I had a small complaint with The Summoner, where on occasion it was a little too obvious that the characters were doing things because Green needed them to to keep the plot going. That never happens in the Egyptian. All the action, all the motivation, it all flows naturally. You never see the hand of the author in this story. The groundwork is properly laid, the middle adds new interests and possibilities, the climax takes care of business, and then we wrap up with a tidy ending.
Wait, you actually want to know what that plot is? Okay. On the surface level, it's about returning some stolen property. Deeper in, that stolen property is a vial of the water of life, a serum that stops people from aging. Who are the thieves? An anti-aging biotech firm. Who lost the vial? An Egyptian eternal-life cult complete with mummies, who also happens to be an anti-aging biotech firm. And they're willing to do anything to get it back. Who are the bad guys? That's one of the great twists in this story. And this story has twists, it has turns, and mummies, and a hunchback, and... I mentioned James Bond earlier. Well, if James Bond and the X-Files had a love child, this book would be it.
The romance is once again a guy's romance. But it's a guy's romance with a bit more introspection than I've usually seen in guy oriented books. I like the fact that Grey is still dealing with the emotional fall out of The Summoner, but willing to move on to new things as well. It's realistic in a very good way. (It's also realistic in a way that some women might find exasperating, but that has more to do with how they deal with men, than anything about the book.)
Dialog is well done, competent, but not outstanding. Call it a B+. And honestly that just might be a matter of my own taste in the matter. There's a sort of balance between wit, snark, and stoic (think NCIS) I'm especially fond of, and this book didn't have that. But what it did have is dialog that works for each character. There's never a second spent thinking, 'Huh? Why did he say that?' There's not a single phrase in the entire book that drags you out of character. And with characters as different as these four, plus the villains, that's a marvelous job.
Like The Summoner, this is a serious book with some dark topics, and Jax was a much needed glimmer of light. In my previous review I equated The Summoner with 90% cocoa chocolate, very dark, very bitter. And sometimes you want dark and bitter. But you can't make it your entire diet. The Egyptian, were it dark chocolate, would probably come in around 60%. And for me, at least, this is a welcome change. I can only deal with so much terrible darkness in a series before it gets too depressing to continue on. The Egyptian not only gives the characters a break, but it gives the reader one as well.
I am extremely pleased that Layton Green asked me to review The Egyptian. I look forward to seeing his further works.