Origin of the Idea

The original idea for Papyrus came to me one afternoon in 1983 when I was wandering through some of the less-glamorous exhibits in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum and spotted a potential way for thieves to break in.

On an upper floor of the museum, there is a series of alcoves, each of which (to the best of my recollection) is fronted by a sarcophagus and has pedestal-mounted statues lining the other three sides.  In one of these alcoves, I noticed a grate covering an opening in the exterior wall — an opening that I assumed provided ventilation by connecting directly to the outside of the building.  The grate is secured by four screws and is partially concealed behind one of the pedestals.  My idea was that a thief could remove the screws and use the ventilation duct to sneak into and out of the museum.

I was told the museum had no burglar alarm system.  Guards provided security, and I witnessed more than one of them sleeping on duty.  So a thief would have needed no technological savvy, only stealth.

The story, as I initially conceived it, centered on the theft.  Since then, Papyrus has become much richer than a mere crime novel, and the theft now occupies only a chapter and a half.

Incidentally, I still have my original pencil sketches from that afternoon in 1983.  They’re too faded to scan well, but a “reproduction” is shown below.  I put reproduction in quotes because I made an error when drawing it.  Although not crucial, the error does turn up in the story.  To the first person who spots it I will send a free copy of Papyrus.

Theft sketch

A Final Note

Recent visitors to the museum may notice that the Narmer Palette occupies a much more prominent position than where I put it in Papyrus.  It’s such an important artifact that it deserves to be prominently displayed.  But Papyrus takes place in 1983, and the Narmer Palette at that time was where I have it in the story.