Title: Cleopatra’s Dagger
Author: Carole Lawrence
Published on: 1 April 2022
Genre: Mystery and Thrillers | Historical Mystery
New York, 1880: Elizabeth van den Broek is the only female reporter at Herald, the city’s most popular newspaper. She and her neighbor, Carlotta, find a woman’s body wrapped like a mummy in a freshly dug hole in the Central Park. The site is the intended site for an obelisk called Cleopatra’s Needle. The discovery takes Elizabeth to New York’s darkest corners. As she reports the murder on Herald, the killer becomes aware of her identity.
Soon, there’s another murder. And this time, the killer sends Elizabeth a letter. She must know he’s watching her…
I had high expectations as I started to read this book and I am disappointed that this book did not live up to those expectations. Have you ever read a book where there are too many side stories that the main story – serial killings in this case – becomes secondary?
Cleopatra’s Dagger has plenty of side stories – we have Elizabeth’s relationship with her parents, her sister Laura’s mental issues which seems to have created a rift within the family, Laura’s doctor who seems to have taken a liking for Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s neighbor who forcefully tries to be a friend, her colleagues who seem to hate her, a sexual assault, the killer and his background (something to do with his mother), dirty cops and corruption… phew!
From the title, I was expecting the story would have something to do with a missing or stolen Cleopatra’s dagger. (Think something similar to the movie Red Notice where characters have their eyes on Cleopatra’s bejeweled eggs.) As the story begins, we have some discussion (between the characters) on Cleopatra’s Needle – an obelisk that would be installed at the Central Park. A body is found at the site of the obelisk and turns out, the highlight of the story is the serial killings.
Victims are dressed up as per an Egyptian Lore – with a mark on their body. Elizabeth learns of this mark halfway through the story and she starts to dig deeper into the lore – the killer thinks he is Osiris, God of the Underworld, Judge of the Dead.
Then we have a sixteen year old boy following Elizabeth like a love-sick puppy. He tries to convince her she’s unlike the girls he’s met so far but Elizabeth does not entertain him – but accepts flowers from him and even chats when he appears unannounced at her workplace. Huh?? Sending out mixed signals, are we, Elizabeth?
Then, there is a sexual assault on Elizabeth – in her office premises. She keeps this incident to herself as she doesn’t want people to think she’s a ‘fallen woman.’ Throughout the story, Elizabeth is harassed by one of her colleagues. Stalked, abused, harassed and yet she does nothing about it.
There is a bit of backstory on Elizabeth stumbled across the first victim. She’s on her way to work (by train) when she sees a man strangling a woman in one of the apartments. She visits the place and tries to investigate but reaches a dead end. Then, she comes across the body in the park and turns out, it was the woman whom she saw from her train window. It really did not make a lot of sense – just because she saw a blonde woman being strangled and then found a dead body of another, she assumed they are same – and concludes it to be true!
The ending seemed abrupt. A lot of questions were left unanswered – will Laura improve, what about Carlotta and her brother’s political involvement, who was the man who sexually assaulted Elizabeth and what happened to the dirty copper?
Also, the story alternates between two PoV characters – Elizabeth and the killer. The killer’s mother’s friends have a chat with him and his mother tells them he’s thirteen. So I was lead to believe the killer was a thirteen year old… Um? Turns out, it wasn’t true. It was quite confusing because at one moment, the killer is petting his cat Cleo and the next, he’s remembering his mother’s submission to men and how it affected him. (She was a prostitute.)
To be honest, I took quite some time to read this book and it put it into a reading slump. The story was not that easy to follow – thanks to too many side stories. Also, Elizabeth converses in German at times – no translation provided to readers who do not understand German. Then, there is a confusing mix of dialects – some of the characters are from Scotland, Ireland and London – and I had trouble following who was from which part of the world.
Overall, Cleopatra’s Dagger by Carole Lawrence was a disappointing read for me. I have seen a few good ratings and reviews on Goodreads so have a look at the other reviews before deciding to give this book a try. If you ask me, I would prefer you skip it. The story did not feel like a historical mystery.
I received an ARC from Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased opinion.