This has, as far as I know, nothing to do with the old Eddie Murphy movie, although that’s what you’ll find if you Google ‘Golden Child’ without ‘Fitzgerald’. It was Penelope Fitzgerald’s first book, written to entertain her dying husband in 1977. I hope it did. It entertained me. She was also inspired by the King Tut exhibit. The Golden Child of the title is a mummy of a people called the Garamantes. This was a real tribe in Africa which had an empire referred to by Herodotus. I don’t know if any of the rest of her description of the tribe and its customs is true or not, but the setting of the book is an exhibit of their golden child mummy and other golden treasures is so huge people are lining up for hours like they did for Tutankhamun. The museum is run by a smooth, mostly admired man named Sir John Allison. He became director so young that there are a few department heads who resent his rise and especially the fact that an expected legacy to the museum will probably be spent by him on all his favorite things and ignore their departments. This legacy will come from Sir William, an eccentric, lovable archaeologist who is the equivalent of Howard Carter, if he hadn’t died. Decades ago, he found the treasures. The main character is Waring Smith, a lower level display expert, who, because of his friendly relationship with Sir William, is returning a tablet to the exhibit late at night and is nearly strangled. Is it the Curse of the Golden Child? Has one of the museum staff lost their mind? Why strangle Waring? Did he interrupt a robbery? Other mysterious events follow and poor Waring, who has enough to worry about with his crumbling marriage and his mortgage, is borne along like flotsam from one to the next.
This cover, while handsome, is far too Egyptian. It’s a short book and an entertaining one. I was worried the end might be a let down, but I need not have worried. While I have a tendency to think that people should behave in certain ways — like report crimes to the police — I’m also not overly concerned with How Things Look, which is all in all to some of the characters in the book. Understandable, they are museum men. And they are all men. The only women are secretaries and Waring’s wife is heard about. But that is how things were. Overall, a highly entertaining read, if like me, you’re into an academic atmosphere with a bit of absurdity thrown in.