Literature Steven Siebert Cleopatra's Needle

ISBN 13: 9780312867485

Cleopatra's Needle

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9780312867485: Cleopatra's Needle

Two halves of an ancient Egyptian ankh hold the key to a Central Park murder and an ancient evil as archaeologist Dan Rawlins and Mossad agent Jacinda El-Bahri race against time to prevent a disaster of literally biblical proportions. 15,000 first printing.

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Review:

Steven Siebert, a screenwriter and comic book artist, combines the speed and flair of both crafts in his lively debut thriller, Cleopatra's Needle. He tells the story of a search for an ancient Egyptian cross, or ankh, that has incredible, mythical powers. This particular relic has been split in half somewhere in the distant past. The half that should be at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is stolen from a curator murdered at the foot of an ancient obelisk (Cleopatra's Needle) in Central Park. The other half has been snatched, at least temporarily, from a top Syrian terrorist named Salameh by a female Israeli intelligence agent. Putting the two halves together, Salameh believes, could result in raising the spirit of the Egyptian Pharaoh Osiris--and boost Salameh's plan for world domination.

Siebert has the energy and skill to rise above the possible foolishness of his material and produce a book full of action and adventure. He tosses in ancient legend and high-tech reanimation to explain how the ankh works. "What I'm saying is, if the idea of the soul is created in an electrochemical mind, after death it is released as pure energy that's given form by the person's own belief system," says Dan Rawlins, the noted archaeologist involved in the search.

Forget all the obvious jokes about "Raiders of the Lost Ankh" or "Ankhs for the Memory," Cleopatra's Needle is serious business. --Dick Adler

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Cleopatra's Needle
PART ONECHAPTER ONENEW YORK CITY 
 
 
 
The light morning rain wasn't keeping the bums indoors. Four of New York's most ragged were huddling under the footbridge as Dan strolled by on his way to work. One of them, a stout fellow about sixty with black axle grease lacquered through his hair, looked up and waved."Hi ya, Doc," he shouted. "Got any change?"Dan waved him off. "Sorry, Georgie. Only packing my credit cards today." His bleeding-heart-liberal guilt stopped him for a second while he considered his obligations to his fellow man."How about I leave a hot dog for you at Sammy's stand?""I dunno. The cops don't like us out front of the museum, Doc. Freaks out the tourists, y'know.""I'll clear it," said Rawlins, hurrying off, his conscience assuaged.Georgie hurried after him onto the footpath. "I won't eat no sauerkraut! I didn't fight the fuckin' Nazis so I could make 'em rich eatin' their stinkin' cabbage!""Sammy only sells Hebrew National, for godsakes!""He just does it so he can sell that Fascist kraut!""Whatever you say, Georgie," yelled Dan as he turned onto the upgrade leading to the knoll. Dan sat down to rest on one of the benches on Greywacke Knoll next to the fence surrounding NewYork's obelisk. It was the highest point in Central Park and Cleopatra's Needle capped the slope.The pillar made a perfect landmark for Dan's occasional morning walks to the Met. At that point, he knew he was less than five minutes away from the building. After a minute, he rose, saluted the obelisk for luck, and cut across the grass for the jogging path down to the street. He followed a couple of Rollerbladers at a safe distance and soon he saw the rear of the museum, looming like a hazy granite giant crouched against an approaching storm.An enormous raindrop struck Dan square on the nose. He wiped it dry with the cuff of his jacket, but another hit his cheek almost immediately and more were splattering the top of his head. He dashed for the back door, hoping to get there before the downpour made him look like a dog after a flea dip.One lousy drop falling through the New York atmosphere must have to pass through ten times its weight in grunge, Dan decided. Even his very expensive Nikes with their tire-tread soles were little help against oil and water on a downhill lane of asphalt. He minced through the flower bed and hopped across the low wall, figuring the shortcut would give him more traction and less chance of skidding on his ass where the entire staff would see him.He raced around to the side steps and steered under the awning, coasting into the glass door with a squish. He was soaked past his underwear. Dripping, he pressed the buzzer urgently. An old security guard peered out, straining to recognize him through a fog of condensation."Open up, Lloyd," Dan shouted. "I'm drowning out here!" Dan brushed wet ringlets away from his forehead as the guard unlatched the door and held it for him to enter."Sorry, Doc."The second person in five minutes to call Dan Rawlins "Doc." It happened all the time, of course, everyone assuming that one of the most famous names in Egyptology must have earned his doctorate. But Dan hadn't. He never found the time."Professor" went down easier. And it was nearly true. At least during the one semester each year he was committed to deliver his lecture series at Georgetown. Down in Washington they treated him like a celebrity with his own condo at the Watergate and a sackful of cash for his trouble. He was encouraged to spend time with all the fawning young archaeology majors he could bear.Even so, Dan knew sleeping with a graduate student thirteen yearshis junior--no matter how discreet they were--meant that everyone would soon be talking. That bothered him. He had spent a lifetime building a reputation among his peers as a dogged researcher and an innovative scientist. He shuddered at the prospect of being labeled academia's answer to Joey Buttafuoco.Especially when the problem with his father had just begun to die down.The two of them had been feuding for years, but with his father spending most of the year half a world away, they had recently called a truce.A decade before, Gunther Rawlins was the leading Biblical scholar in the world. Then, one night he had a revelation that the Scriptures were the literal, revealed truth of God. It was a point of view that many Vatican and fundamentalist scholars held, but it was a rare conviction for a secular researcher.All Dan saw was his aging father's fear of stepping from life into oblivion. Gunther's perspective was that every new theory of God uncovered new mysteries. Mysteries that only faith could resolve. It might have stayed a family debate if the Rawlins weren't world-famous scientists. The media picked up on the secular/religious conflict because it was such a good story and had no shame about dividing the Rawlins clan.Dan's mother, a leading authority on the prehistory of the Nile Valley, thankfully kept out of the verbal battles, but it was a terrible time. Clashes between Dan and his father aired for three straight nights on Hard Copy and, during Dan's last book tour, talk of the father-son discord dominated the interviews. The tumult was only now dying down in favor of political sex scandals and movie-star tragedies.None of this seemed to bother the Jesuits who hired Gunther, since it helped their bottom line to have their science lectures play to a packed hall.Dan's real joy came from the small condo group. With them he could hold court like his father. And often, after one of these informal get-togethers, one of the prettier girls would stay on for the night. His friends on the faculty called them Professor Rawlins's "excavations."That's why!A delicious moment of revelation struck him. Whenever one of his girls murmured to him, or panted or screamed, she called out "Professor!"Never "Dan," or "Doc," or any little pet name she might have devised. No, always "Professor." No wonder he liked the title. Invariably, the next morning in class, his topic would turn to the bizarre sexual practices of the Egyptian court at Thebes. Most of his class would sit stone-faced and earnestly take copious notes. Except for one young lady in a front row. She'd giggle."Watch yourself, Doc. The floor's slippery, and you ain't making it any drier."Dan nodded. "I'll try, Lloyd."Dan dripped down the thirteen stairs to the corridor that led to a maze of offices and workrooms under the museum. He passed an open door, and a broad man in an immaculate blue suit looked up from a pyramid of papers on his desk and waved."Ha, you got caught, huh?""Not all of us can afford taxis to drop us under the canopy, John."John Erman, the curator of Egyptian and Middle Eastern Studies, provided a desk and a grad student for Rawlins's office when he was in town. It was a nice symbiotic relationship. "We're the pilot fish to your shark," Erman was fond of saying.In fact, Dan enjoyed his connection with such a prestigious institution. He felt legitimized by it, despite the inevitable talk by his more academic colleagues that he was merely the product of famous parents, and his standing in the profession was mostly media hype."Why does he write only those popular books?" they said."All this exposure on television trivializes the science of archaeology," they said."Is young Rawlins afraid of publishing in the proper academic journals?""That's poor Danny Rawlins. You know, the one from the TV, the Jerry Springer of Egyptology!"Screw 'em, he thought. He knew he came across on the tube in a way his dull-as-dry-rot colleagues never could. Reviewers were generally on his side. They inevitably remarked on his ability to make Egypt's past come alive. It was as if he had actually been there, they said.However, he did stop appearing on talk shows after a last avalanche of professional criticism jeopardized his work. Museums are conservative institutions. They rarely dole out consulting jobs or arrange financing for the projects of controversial figures. Still, a famous man attracts contributions and, in that respect, the Rawlins name on a museum's letterhead was a valuable commodity.Of course, snaring D. Gunther Rawlins, Sr., for their stationery was every head curator's first choice, but Dan's father had stayed a fixture at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem for thirty-two years. Although he had privileges at the Met, they could not pry him away from the Middle East. "Not for a trillion bucks and a first-round draft pick," his old man always said."Let me go, John," said Dan. "I'm gonna get pneumonia from the chill in here if I don't get dry pretty soon.""Wait a second. I sent a guy to your office. Sounds Irish, I think. He says he's from Sotheby's in London." Erman grinned, showing all three hundred teeth. In a brotherly gesture, he brushed back the wet strands from Dan's forehead. "We try to cooperate with our suppliers, don't we?"Dan nodded reluctantly."Good," said Erman. "Now, go dry off your head!"Marcy Lanyard met Dan at the end of the corridor. She stood blocking his office door, her arms folded as she assayed his condition. Dan gazed at her appreciatively. A long, thin colt of a girl, she stood model-tall and wore her glossy blond hair drawn back into an arching ponytail. Marcy had been on loan from NYU for five months. It had taken her three of those months to get into Dan's bed, but at the office, she made an effort to keep everything professional.Dan felt a breath of cold air from the air-conditioning ducts and shivered. Magically, Marcy produced two towels from under her crossed arms and threw one to him."A couple of people are waiting for you, you know," said Marcy, wiping one of his ears with her towel."I heard about the man from Sotheby's. Who else?""An older woman," Marcy said while helping him dry his hair. "She didn't give her name, but she's got museum privileges and she's wandering around.""Okay, I'll see Sotheby's first," he said. "Just give me a couple of minutes to change.""No problem. I stashed him at the reception desk. He'll be happy. Gloria's wearing her pink sweater today, no bra."Dan leered back at her. "Then, remind me to escort him in personally." Dan pulled off his sweatshirt as he headed into his private office. He felt Marcy's hand patting him on the rear as he swept by her.Inside, he stripped off his wet shirt and changed to one he found in his office closet. He had just finished combing his damp hair whenhe heard a knock at the door. "Yeah, I hear you!" he shouted. He peeked through the spyhole in the door and groaned.Dan opened the door. The woman standing in the dark hall flashed her ice-gray eyes at him."Hello, Mother," he said. "I didn't know you were back from Israel.""You look like shit, Junior," she said, pushing the door wider. Dan moved aside and gestured for her to come inside. She marched to the center of the office and planted herself next to the leather couch against the far wall. Evangeline Beecham Rawlins, at sixty-three, could still dominate any room she entered. She was thin, even scrawny, with her bone-white hair worn long and free, a style she hadn't changed since the sixties.Dan ambled in behind her, wishing he had organized the clutter of his latest researches before it had spread out into clumps over virtually every flat surface in the room."Son, have you considered hosing this office down?"Dan didn't answer. Instead, he picked up the papers from the couch and piled them on top of a low bookcase. "Sit anywhere you like, Mother. Sorry there's no throne."Eva Rawlins, although a foot shorter than Dan, managed to look down on him. "Unworthy of you, Junior." She perched on the edge of an old ladder-back chair. It was made of hard oak. Typically, she chose the least comfortable seat in the room."Can I get you a cup of coffee?" asked Dan. "I think there might be a Twinkie, too. I had one for lunch last week, and they come in twos. They don't get stale, do they?"She shook her head. "I don't have much time before my preinterview at PBS. Your father and I are booked on that nice Charlie Rose's television show when he gets back from the Megiddo excavation.""I didn't know you had a new edition coming out?""We don't. We're plugging Resurrection Unlimited. That's the gathering of all the world faiths in Washington next month. We're on the board of directors.""Well, I'll avoid that little party like the plague.""Mustn't let your emotions cloud your judgment, son," she replied, folding her hands on her lap. "All we need do is mention that we both accepted Christ as our personal savior, and you get irrational."Dan knew he was outmatched and gave up his combative stance. "Sure you don't want any coffee, Mom? I only had a few hours' sleep last night. I could use about a kilo of caffeine."She shook her head. "No wonder you're so testy."Dan stepped into the outer office to the tiny kitchen area that serviced the Egyptology Department. The Mr. Coffee was plugged in, so all he had to do was pour a couple of glasses of tap water into the top and wait for the coffee to urinate into the Pyrex pot.As the coffee started to drip, Dan poked around the half-sized refrigerator looking for the fabled Twinkie to have with it. Instead, he found a calcified Fig Newton behind a jar of five-month-old Smuckers grape jelly and put it on his last clean saucer."Ma? I've got Perrier, if you're still on your ascetic kick."Eva suddenly appeared in the portal. "It's fine. Nothing."The coffee was ready, and Dan poured himself a cup. He dunked the cookie, and when it sogged-up into edibility, he ate it in one bite. When he looked up, his mother was staring at him."What?" he asked finally."I won't beat around the bush, Danny. I don't want you to be this way when you see your father. Something is worrying him about his new dig. He's been calling Cairo almost every day about an ostracon they found. You may have heard about the robbery at the museum. Only a few minor artifacts and some of the less notable mummies in the collection were taken, but they found an interesting shard that mentioned Megiddo when they were inventorying the loss."Dan stuck out his chin. "You know him. He keeps everything to himself when he's on the scent of a big find. It's just like it was in the desert. Rawlins-Pasha never sleeps until the mound is flat and all of its secrets revealed."Eva handed him a manila envelope. "He'll want your opinion on this. Why don't we talk over dinner the night he gets back. Is that a deal?""Deal." Dan put down his cup and joined her at the door. "Don't concern yourself about Dad," he said in a comforting way. "He's just tired. And the work hasn't got any easier over the last thirty years. He's probably looking for one last discovery to cap his career and maybe then he can relax at the beach house like you two always planned." He kissed her on the cheek and she smiled. Then, she turned to go."I'm opening up the Montauk ho...

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