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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

Excavating

 

 

2 trowels

QUESTIONABLE REMAINS

By: Beverly Connor
Cumberland House Publishing:  Nashville, TN
1997 (HC)
 

In the late 1990s, Beverly Connor authored five volumes in the all-too-short-lived Lindsay Chamberlain mystery series.  The series heroine was a charming young archaeologist/forensic anthropologist who taught at the University of Georgia and would occasionally take on forensic work for law enforcement authorities.  After a brief hiatus from writing, Beverly Connor returned with the Diane Fallon Forensic Investigation series, several volumes of which I have reviewed.  WIn the late 1990s, Beverly Connor authored five volumes in the all-too-short-lived hile the Fallon books are clever and enjoyable, I have always believed that the Lindsay Chamberlain series was the better of the two and Lindsay the more sympathetic protagonist. 

In this, the second in the Chamberlain series, the story opens with Lindsay’s expertise and ethics challenged by an outraged defense lawyer, whose client has been sentenced on the strength of Lindsay’s expert witness testimony.  The outrage is shared by the client’s relatives, some of whom seem capable of bodily harm or worse against Lindsay.  The threat increases dramatically when the convicted killer escapes. 

Even before the courtroom drama, Lindsay has planned a summer vacation busman’s tour of several Southeastern archaeological digs being directed by old friends and colleagues, including one being run by her lover, Derrick Bellamy.  The road trip seems like a good idea, if for no other reason than to Get Lindsay out of harm’s way while the manhunt for the escapee, Denny Ferguson, is underway.  But just before leaving, she is asked by the local sheriff to examine the remains of a burial discovered on a farm not far distant from Lindsay’s home.    The body in the shallow grave provides an interesting archaeological puzzle as the Mississippian ear spool in close context with the body would indicate a Native American burial.  But the remains are more European in nature and few Mississippians were buried with a rosary!   At this point in the story, Beverly Connor introduces the first of a continuing series of flashbacks that follow the exploits of a 16th Century Spanish explorer named Roberto Raphael Lacayo, who was captured by Indians and participated in the hunting down of a brutal conquistadores band that slaughtered a village of native women and children.  Flashbacks are an often-used literary device in archaeological fiction, but Connor puts it to interesting use in that Lindsay’s tour of regional dig sites follows the path of Lacayo, the conquistadores and the Indians and the interpretations by the archaeologists of the data they are excavating.  The flashbacks tell us what really happened.    

Introducing yet a third, seemingly unrelated plotline to the narrative, the farm wife, on whose property the burial was found, pleads with Lindsay to use her expertise in finding out the truth about the tragic death of her younger brother, Ken Darnell, in an apparent caving accident in northwest Georgia.  She believes the postmortem investigation of her brother’s skeletonized remains was slipshod at best and that her brother was slain by his wife for insurance money.  There is a not so subtle hint that not all of these separate threads are unrelated when the irate defense lawyer for the escapee Denny Ferguson turns out to be a close relative of the farmwife and her deceased brother! 

Lindsay finally sets out on her dig sites tour and we learn that her route follows very closely the route followed by the marauding conquistadores as they destroyed a village and were then driven to a neighboring rock shelter by avenging native warriors.  The threads of the two contemporary mysteries—the escaped killer and the dead caver—become even more entwined when a student fieldworker at the rock shelter site is found dead under mysterious circumstances and Lindsay discovers that he was also a caver who had explored with Ken Darnell! 

When Lindsay is finally able to study the remains of Darnell and his two companions, all of whom ostensibly died in the cave-in, she is forced to question all of the “facts” of the cases surrounding the escaped prisoner and the dead cave explorers.  The merging of the story lines is a bit contrived, but clever nonetheless, and the archaeological subtext of the novel is well done.  This is not the strongest of the Lindsay Chamberlain stories, but still worth the read.  Two 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.