THE FALL OF AUGUSTUS
By: Sarah Wisseman
Wings ePress: Richmond, KY
Sarah Wisseman’s third archaeology mystery featuring
archaeology museum curator Lisa Donohue is her strongest entry thus far.
The novel opens with the staff of the Boston University museum moving to a
new state-of-the-art building and all the excitement and angst that goes
with such an undertaking. Then, in the blinking of an eye, the cable snaps
that is lowering the massive statue of Caesar Augustus down the old museum’s
elevator shaft and the highly-respected, sometimes loved, but always penny
pinching museum director, Victor Fitzgerald, is smooshed. The ensuing
police investigation would seem to hint strongly that the cable was cut and
that murder most foul was the intention.
Lisa Donahue finds herself in the uncomfortable
position of being named acting director and being a suspect in the
apparent homicide. While Lisa isn’t crazy about every one of her
colleagues, she fails to sense that any of them would have a motive to kill
Victor. There are intrigues a-plenty going on within the hallowed halls of
the museum, and it does take on the aura of a somewhat dusty and fussy
little Peyton Place. Lisa’s situation is complicated further when the 4th
Century BC “Bryn Mawr Torque (referenced in the first novel in this series,
Bound for Eternity) is stolen during the moving operation. The
imperious Dean Saltonstall shows little confidence in Lisa’s executive
skills and after only a month brings in Valerie Albrecht to be the permanent
museum director—the same Valerie Albrecht who was Lisa’s professional and
personal nemesis when she worked in a Philadelphia museum years earlier.
Valerie proves to be a perfect harridan in her new
position and soon alienates virtually everyone on the museum staff and a
full-scale rebellion seems to be brewing when another Celtic artifact goes
missing during the move. Could the thefts be tied to the untimely death of
Victor Fitzgerald? But no! Sergeant McEwan of the Boston PD, and a
recurring character from Bound for Eternity, stuns the museum staff
with the news that the cable lowering the statue of Augustus broke from
material stress, not deliberate cutting. There was no murder!
Nonetheless, Valerie continues her non-stop harassment
of the museum staff until even Saltonstall realizes his mistake, fires her,
and re-instates Lisa as director. Just when the good times seem to be
returning to the good folks at the Boston University Museum, tragedy again
strikes when Lisa discovers the lifeless body of Valerie Albrecht in a
museum storeroom, her head perforated with a Greek transport amphora! But
when Sergeant McEwan and his crew arrive on the scene, the body has gone
missing and Lisa’s truthfulness is put in doubt. All doubt is removed,
however, when Valerie’s body is found several days later in the
Egyptian-African storeroom—bound as a poorly embalmed and badly wrapped and
putrefying mummy! Did someone hate Valerie so much that he or she
stove in her head and then desecrated her body? Or, as Lisa begins to
wonder, are there two crazy people running around in the labyrinthine
hallways and storerooms of the old museum—one who killed her and another who
stole her body and desecrated her?
Sarah Wisseman has written a clever, erudite museum
murder mystery, and in so doing has sharpened her craft as a writer. I
liked her earlier entries but noted that her characters often seemed stiff
and self-absorbed and the dialogue was often quite wooden. Those traits are
few and far between in The Fall of Augustus; it’s as if Ms.
Wisseman’s characters are gaining self-confidence at the same time she is
becoming more comfortable with her craft and is becoming a very fine mystery
writer. Four trowels for The Fall of Augustus.
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