By: Mary Anna Evans
Poisoned Pen Press, Scottsdale, Arizona
I’ve mentioned previously that one of life’s true delights for me
is the discovery of a new author and his or her first novel that I find
truly exciting. Mary Anna Evans and her Artifacts are that author
and that first novel!
Faye Longchamp is the heroine of this atmospheric gothic mystery set in
the panhandle of Florida and its tiny islands and islets of shifting sand.
She is a shadowy figure in many ways—a young, attractive biracial woman
who clings stubbornly to her heritage, both cultural and built, as she
lives in a purposely run-down ancestral plantation mansion. She literally
hides the existence of Joyeuse, the name given to the property in
ante-bellum times, from the taxman, while she works as a supervisor on a
university archaeological dig by day and a pothunter by night to save up
enough money to meet property tax demands. Pothunting may be anathema to
all of us who embrace the concepts of scientific excavation methods,
provenience, site reports, etc., but Author Evans very skillfully and
sympathetically explains Faye’s rationalizing—indeed, Faye’s need to
carry on this illegal activity. The descendant of a remarkable slave named
Cally, who was freed before the Civil War, Faye lives in a shadow world
between races, classes and the law-abiding and the lawless. Fay is, in a
Faulknerian sense, one of "the unvanquished."
In the midst of her legitimate excavating and her trafficking in
illicit artifacts, Faye is plunged into the forty-year-old mystery of the
disappearance of a young local debutante when skeletal remains are
discovered on the dig. Almost within hours two student excavators are
assassinated, followed by the discovery of three more decades-old bodies.
Seagreen Island has become more than just an archaeology site—it has
become a veritable killing field. Her life, plus that of her mysterious
friend Joe Wolf Mantooth, is in danger and it eventually becomes evident
to Faye that the killer of four decades past is alive and well and more
than willing to continue killing.
This novel is wonderfully multi-layered, spinning a wonderful murder
mystery while at the same time lovingly describing a place (the west
Florida panhandle) that retains much of its unique history and culture.
With seamless ease, Ms. Evans tells the back story of how Faye’s
great-great-grandmother Cally, a freed slave, could become the owner of Joyeuse,
and hand it down to her present day descendant.
This is simply a wonderful book and I look forward to the continuing of
Faye’s adventures in next summer’s publication of Relics.
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