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Two Trowels

A RUMOR OF BONES

By: Beverly Connor
Cumberland House Publishing: Nashville, Tennessee
1996 (HC)

Seven years before beginning her Diane Fallon Forensic Investigations series, Beverly Connor had her first Lindsay Chamberlain mystery published.  This brief series (it was to include five novels in total) featured a young, attractive physical anthropologist/archaeologist whose excavations always featured lots of murder and mayhem.  I remember feeling keen disappointment when a few years passed after the publication of her fifth Lindsay Chamberlain novel, Airtight Case, and it was evident that the series had breathed its last.  I was elated when Connor’s new series with anthropologist/museum director Diane Fallon came along, but truth be told, I have a warmer spot in my heart for the Chamberlain mysteries than the Fallon stories. 

This is not to say that A Rumor of Bones is a great literary work, but it was author Connor’s initial entry in the great mystery genre sweepstakes and it did hint at good things to come—which proved to be true, and I highly recommend all five of the Lindsay Chamberlain novels.  

The reader is introduced to Lindsay as she participates in the excavation of a large-scale 500 year old prehistoric site in rural Georgia at Jasper Creek.  The description of  the methodology is quite realistic—Connor studied anthropology at the University of Georgia and has worked numerous excavations in the Southeast, according to the book jacket biographical note—and the author works “inside archaeology” into the narrative quite nicely.  The dynamics of human interaction among the dig crew—especially the romantic twists and turns that result in love triangles, quadrangles and maybe even pentangles!—get a little overblown from time to time, but for the most part they do fit within the plot, although sometimes in a rather tortured fashion.

The mystery plot—or is it plots—is quite good.  The bodies of missing children—little girls—begin turning up with distressing frequency and the local sheriff, not the usual stereotypical redneck Georgia sheriff by any means—asks Lindsay to help identify the remain because of her expertise in forensic anthropology.  Almost simultaneously, a modern burial—perhaps some 25-100 years old—is found intruding into one of the prehistoric burials that the crew is excavating.  Lindsay shifts her attention to these new remains and determines that the remains are those of a young woman killed by a bullet through the head!  As if very contemporary murders—for the children’s corpses are only a few years old—and a murder victim from the not-so-distant pass were not enough, the dig is beset by local toughs who harass the dig crew, pot is planted in crew tents to discredit the young crew members who are looked upon with great suspicion by many of the locals, and Lindsay is stalked by a predatory young local rich boy who has developed a worrisome fixation on her.   

Mixed into this seething cauldron of antagonism, Lindsay and her co-workers are introduced to the Tyler family, a close-knit clan whose roots are sunk deep in the local Georgia clay and whose wealth and prominence have accustomed them to having things their way.  When invited to the annual Tyler Fourth of July celebration, Lindsay stumbles upon some Tyler family secrets that not only threaten to blow apart the local social fabric but threaten Lindsay’s very life.   

The various plots of this first Lindsay Chamberlain novel begin to converge and the reader is treated to some old-fashioned Southern gothic as well as some pretty interesting forensic anthropology.  I believe the romantic sub-plots distract from the novel—mainly because they often make the main characters seem trivial and juvenile—and its because of this that I only give two trowels to A Rumor of Bones, but hang in there—the series improves which each new edition and still and all, A Rumor of Bones is a pretty good read!  

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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.