The novel transports us to nineteenth-century Cairo and the Antikkhana, the first museum founded in Egypt in the time of the Khedive Ismail (1863-1879). The narrative unfolds through the eyes of four main characters. The first is Ramadan al-Mahmadi, an Egyptian carpenter who lures housemaids with promises of marriage into stealing artefacts from the house of the German archaeologist Heinrich Brugsch, and later also from the Antikkhana. If any of them tries to make him keep his promise, he kills her and buries her in his garden. Then there is Heinrich Brugschwho helps ‘Mariette Pasha’ (Auguste Marriette), the director of the museum, in his work; and Ahmad Effendi Kamal, the first Egyptian archaeologist, who has only managed to get an administrative job at the Antikkhana since Mariette Pasha refused to employ Egyptians in jobs directly connected to the artefacts. He makes a monumental effort to find out who has stolen the antiquities, and falls in love with his French colleague, Josephine – the last of the four central characters – who has come to work at the Antikkhana after running away from an angry ex-fiancée in Paris.