Book Reviews

Review Rating

With the October 2004 review, we began rating the books on the basis of one to four trowels; 
one trowel= don’t bother, to four trowels= run right out to your local book store and buy the hard cover!

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The Scorpion’s Bite by Aileen G. Baron

Reviewed on: July 1, 2018


Poisoned Pen Press:  Scottsdale AZ
210 (HC)

It is 1943 and University of Chicago ABD archaeologist Lily Sampson, still suffering from the loss of her lover at the Battle of Al Alamein, is recruited by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (the World War II predecessor to the CIA) to team up with Gideon Weil, famed Director of the American School of Oriental Studies in Jerusalem to conduct an archaeological survey in the Emirate of Trans-Jordan.  They are accompanied by photographer Klaus Steiner, who is a refugee from Nazi Germany.   The survey is obviously a cover for the team’s spying on German and Vichy French operations in the Levant, and before the novel reaches it denouement, their adventures extend to gathering intelligence necessary to sabotage an oil pipeline pumping station serving the needs of the Vichy and the Nazis, ferreting out a German spy ring, and the rescue of the adolescent king of Iraq, Faisal II.

This is the third and final Lily Sampson novel penned by the late California State University, Fullerton archaeologist Aileen G. Baron.  Like the two earlier entries in the series, The Fly Has a Hundred Eyes and The Torch of Tangier, The Scorpion’s Bite is a gracefully written mystery that demonstrates the author’s command of the tenor and intrigues of the Middle East during the years of World War II.  But even more engaging is the author’s command of the history and archaeology of that beleaguered land—from the hunter-gatherers of Paleolithic times to the fraught political situation between the Hashemite dynasty of Trans-Jordan and the Wahhabist-backed and oil-rich rulers of Saudi Arabia—and her brilliant descriptions of the land and cultures of the Middle East.  The book would be worthwhile reading, if only for the description Ms. Baron renders of Petra, the ancient capital of the Nabataeans, who controlled desert trade during Roman times.  It is an absolutely exquisite narrative, told with the loving and discerning eye of an archaeologist.

Three trowels for Aileen G. Baron’s The Scorpion’s Bite.

Twenty Years in the Trenches: Archaeology in Fiction

William Gresens, longtime MVAC supporter and volunteer, has been writing reviews of archaeological fiction as MVAC’s book reviewer for twenty years.  In this interview Bill shares how he got started writing reviews for MVAC, how the genre has changed, highlights, and his thoughts looking forward. 

Bill Gresen’s Book Review 20th Anniversary

While Bill's reviews go back 20 years now, his relationship with MVAC goes back more than twice that long! The reviews capture some of the things we enjoy most about Bill-- he's perceptive, methodical, a clear thinker, and a whole lot of fun! We look forward to this relationship--and Bill's reviews!--continuing for many years to come.

The March 2021 review marks the 20th anniversary of reviews of archaeological fiction.  It has been my pleasure and great fun to while away the hours reading these books—for the most part, at least—and writing the reviews!  My thanks to MVAC allowing me to prattle on and I look forward to the years ahead.

Bill Gresens