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 3 trowels

THE KEEPSAKE

By: Tess Gerritsen
Ballantine Books:  New York
2009 (pb)

The press and news media wait with great anticipation at Boston’s Pilgrim Hospital as a gurney is rolled through the lobby doors.  But this is not a high profile celebrity accident or drug overdose victim; this is everyone’s favorite museum subject – an Egyptian mummy from the Ptolemaic Dynasty dating from some 2,000 years in the past!  Madame X, as she has been nicknamed in the press, had recently been discovered, apparently abandoned and forgotten, in the basement of the venerable Crispin Museum—the cabinet of curiosities repository of antiquities and oddities collected by many generations of the Crispin family, explorers and archaeologists, all. 

Madame X is to undergo a CT scan at Pilgrim Hospital, demonstrating the efficacy of non-invasive procedures for exposing the mummified remains without doing the damage inevitably resulting from the unwrapping of the body. The CT, or computed tomography scan fires x-rays into the mummy remains from thousands of angles, which are then processed by a computer that generates a three-dimensional image of the internal anatomy of the body.  Witnessing the experimental process, in addition to the med tech and the hospital’s radiologist, are the two co-investigator archaeologists from the museum – the avuncular curator Dr. Nicholas Robinson and the lovely young Egyptologist Josephine Pulcillo.  Another invited expert guest is Dr. Maura Isles, the Boston Medical Examiner, whose pallid face severely cut black hair has led to her media nickname, the Queen of the Dead. 

But as Madame X’s image reaches its conclusion, an incredible anomaly appears:  a very modern bullet seems to be lodged in the mummy’s calf, and the telltale signs of healing would indicate that the wound was ante mortem—before death!  The archaeology project quickly becomes a medical examiner’s case for Maura Isles, and her autopsy of Madame X reveals a very contemporary young female victim who has been embalmed following the mummification procedures of ancient Egypt.  There is a departure, however, from those practices—the lips have been sewn shut and within the mouth, has been deposited a token that reads, “I visited the Pyramids, Cairo, Egypt;” on the reverse side is a cartouche for the name “Medea.”  Detective Jane Rizzoli and her partner Barry Frost of the Boston PD are called in to initiate the investigation of this cold case, which at the very least, is not 2,000 years old.   

Rizzoli and her team scour the Crispin Museum to ascertain whether more “lost” bodies might be stored away in its dusty nooks and crannies.  What they find is an un-catalogued tsantsa, or shrunken head stuffed with remnants of a 26-year-old newspaper from Indio, California.  To her horror, Josephine Pulcillo realizes that the clues left behind—first the “Medea” token and then the Indio newspaper—put her squarely in the middle of these mysteries.  Subsequent events, including a sinister anonymous note that leads Josephine to the discovery of a “bog body” in the trunk of her stolen car,  make it obvious to Rizzoli and the Boston PD investigators that Josephine may well be the ultimate target of a very disturbed killer.  That is until they discover that  Josephine Pulcillo died in an automobile accident 24 years earlier—their beautiful young archaeologist has been lying to them all along! 

What follows is a tense, convoluted mystery that speeds to an incredibly dramatic denouement as Rizzoli and Maura Isles both get drawn into the web of danger and suspense that envelopes “Josephine Pulcillo.”  Archaeology and the darkly atmospheric Crispin Museum seem to be the common threads that link victims and killer, but will the heroines of this series discover that link before it’s too late?   

This is a fascinating thriller—not necessarily meant for the faint of heart—that should bring enjoyment (and shivers) to any intrepid reader on a dark and stormy night.  Three Trowels for The Keepsake.

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*MVAC Educational Programs are supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in these programs do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
*This project was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation.  Opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation.