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3 trowels

THE MOAI MURDERS

By: Lyn Hamilton
Berkley Publishing Group, New York
April 2005 (hc)

In the past few years, the late spring has proved to be not only the time of April showers bringing May flowers, but it is also the time of year for the publication of new additions to several archaeological mystery series. Aaron Elkins' new Gideon Oliver mystery was followed closely by the new Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody novel, which in turn has been followed by my favorite armchair traveler/archaeology mystery author, Lyn Hamilton.

In this, her ninth entry in the Lara McClintoch series, Hamilton transports her antique dealer heroine to a tiny dot in the middle of the western Pacific called Rapa Nui, better known to many of us as Easter Island. For the first time in the series, Lara is not traveling to exotic locations seeking antiques and antiquities, but rather accompanying her convalescing friend, Moira Meller, on the vacation of a lifetime-it seems Moira has had a life-long fascination with Easter Island and the giant sculpted heads (the Moai) for which the tiny island has long been famous, at least since Thor Heyerdahl's 1958 best-seller, Aku-Aku.

Coincident with their vacation on Rapa Nui, and headquartered at their hotel, is the self-styled First Annual Rapa Nui Moai Congress. This small but select (by whom is one of the mysteries Lara eventually must grapple) group of people share in common a passion for the history and mystery of the sculpted heads that dot the Rapa Nui landscape. But they are a ragtag group, including some legitimate scholars, some self-educated avocational experts on the Moai and their creators, and some out and out charlatans and mystics. Central to the group, however is Jasper Robinson, who seems to embody aspects of all the aforementioned types. He promotes the paper he is to deliver at the Congress - Rapa Nui: The Mystery Solved - as the definitive answer to the question whether the indigenous people of Rapa Nui, and therefore the origins of the Moai, came Asia via the Polynesian Island chain or from South America. He is an archetype of the phenomena we have all grown used to in the last few decades-the media-savvy, self-aggrandizing and very popular quasi-scientist. So much so that Jasper Robinson has come to Rapa Nui and the Congress with his own film director and crew in tow to capture the magic moment of his unraveling the mystery of Easter Island.

Unfortunately, Death is also a registrant at the conference, and conferees-including the star himself, Jasper Robinson-begin to fall like ten-pins and in quick succession three of them are dead. Lara soon finds herself up to her neck in intrigue as she aids and abets one prime suspect who is hiding out from the police and her friend Moira becomes romantically involved with yet another murder suspect. While logic would seem to indicate that the murders are the macabre results of academic jealousies and hostilities whose origins go back several decades, Lara can't help but believe there is something more substantial-and even more perverse-behind the killings.

Lyn Hamilton's mysteries improve with every outing; her characters, primarily Lara, grow more robust and well defined as with each new edition of the McClintoch mysteries, and my only regret is that we now have to wait at least another year for the next Archaeological Mystery from this gifted author.

The Moai Murders deserve 3 trowels.

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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.