Archaeologist, assassin, daughter of the time vortex, Professor River Song is always running, from the past, from the predetermined fate of her future, from swarming nanobots and the inflatable crocodiles of the Nile, when all she wants right now is peace to finish penning her latest Melody Malone mystery, The Ruby’s Curse, the necessary solitude found of all places in her cell in the Stormcage facility in 5,147AD.
As with most thrillers of the era, there is a body and a prize, the RMS Tithonia pulling into New York harbour in 1,939AD with the courier from whom Melody was supposed to receive the Eye of Horus already dead and the jewel which supposedly once belonged to Cleopatra missing; pursuit of the coveted gem leaves a trail of further bodies, the entire family tree of the explorer who uncovered it cut down, but is it coincidence or the ruby’s curse?
While many of the deaths are apparently accidents of illness, one at least is murder, but despite her determination to complete her latest bestseller, intended to give financial support to her parents stranded out of time, Professor Song is distracted by the arrival of a new inmate at Stormcage, also an archaeologist, who tells of a terrible weapon called the Eye of Horus, sought by mercenaries who still pursue him to learn where he hid it.
Billed as a Melody Malone Mystery but told in the first person by her creator River Song, who knows her better than Alex Kingston herself, though prolific Big Finish author Jacqueline Rayner is present as faithful sidekick to put the final polish on The Ruby’s Curse, and as might be expected everything is in reverse and knotted back on itself, a tangle of causality, repercussions, sly asides, innuendo and in-jokes – would we settle for anything less?
Like the adventures of Dirk Gently, everything is connected and the more preposterous a development the more significant it is likely to be, the complicated lives of the River and Melody requiring them to double as private detective, cat burglar and thieving cat, putting the anarchy in archaeology as they raid silent tombs along the Nile in ancient Egypt.
Predictably, there are cameos from friends and family, the waifs, strays and orphans of time, but it remains River Song’s story – well, her and Melody Malone’s, her alter-ego who sprang from the id and who now manifests in a more physical form than fictional characters are intended to, a reflection of how many Doctor Who fans feel about the larger than life icons who educate them in science and history and occasionally entertain along the way.
An adventure which takes risks, not only in the blind leaps through time and laying traps in which they themselves are the bait but also in the format of the novel, The Ruby’s Curse is a self-aware riddle which teases the reader to solve it before the characters, even telling them where the solution lies, though any true fan will know the correct way to solve the case is by experiencing events and piecing together the clues rather than relying on spoilers.