First off, I want to make it known that I read this book in about ten hours. It’s not a perfect novel, but it is still ten hours of incredible, lightning-paced fun.
“The Third Gate” is, to a great extent, the same type of novel Lincoln Child has been writing for a while. A team of explorers enters bold new territory in hopes of glory, discovery, riches, fame, or a combination of these, and is met instead with horror.
“The Third Gate” is different in that it deals not with the sort of monsters that have become Child’s forte, but a curse. Even better, it’s an ancient Egyptian curse. Child pulls this tired cliche with finesse. I was altogether pleased.
When world-famous archaeologist-turned-treasure hunter Porter Stone–who has been credited with the discovery of Camelot and the grave of the Celtic warrior queen Boudica, to name just two of his marvelous discoveries–determines the ancient gravesite of King Narmer. Narmer is the historically invaluable Pharaoh who united Upper and Lower Egypt thousands of years ago. It is literally the discovery of the century.
But there are problems.
The grave, thought to be lost for millennia, is buried deep in the Sudd: a thick, deadly, primeval swamp far along the Nile. The Sudd is treacherous, comprised in quicksand, rot-filled mud, and islands of rotten vegetation that began developing millenia before. It is an ancient and largely uncharted colossus, and presents infinite danger to Stone and his team.
Stone, a mastermind in his way, assembles a team with the ability and material to build a floating city on the Sudd while the site is excavated. There, he runs into more trouble: Narmer’s tomb is hundreds and hundreds of yards below the surface of the Sudd.
While he and his team work on building a way to tunnel safely beneath the surface, he has another team working on definitively pinpointing the exact location of the tomb. Cartographers and scholars work hand in hand with a psychic, who seems to be channeling an ancient spirit. In addition to the information Stone has requested, he receives dire warnings on behalf of the\is spirit, decrying their desecration of the holy site of the tomb, and warning of a terrible death by way of an ancient curse.
“The Third Gate” is so simple on so many levels, but many of Child’s trademark twists and turns in the plot are largely unpredictable. There is literally a surprise in every chapter, a new revelation that makes the mystery more and more difficult to decipher.
Child’s writing is solid. He has a gift for fast-paced action laced with horror, combined just enough (read: “barely”) plausibility and character depth to pull it off. There are no complaints on that front. While Child is not the most clinically adept or brilliant author, he harnesses tension and adventure masterfully. The majority of fans will not be disappointed with “The Third Gate,” and it should lead new fans to the rest of Child’s work.
My lone complaint was with the ending. It was not a poor ending, but it did have a rushed feel that didn’t sit completely flush with the rest of the novel. It was satisfying enough, however.
Overall, “The Third Gate” is a simple novel strongly rooted in older horror and pulp fiction. It handles the cliche of a mummy’s curse with prowess and skill, bringing something sufficiently different to the table. It throws curves endlessly, keeping the reader firmly in its grip, and the final climactic showdown is riveting. Overall, it is strongly recommended, particularly to Child’s fans.