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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Isolation by Mary Anna Evans

Reviewed on: October 1, 2015


Poisoned Pen Press, Scottsdale, Arizona
2015 (pb)

After recent adventures revolving about such momentous events as Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill along the Gulf Coast, author Mary Anna Evans takes her heroine, archaeologist Faye Longchamp, back to Faye’s home turf on Joyeuse Island, off the Florida panhandle.  The normally resolute protagonist of this worthy series is distraught with grief at the loss of her miscarried baby and is barely able to maintain a daily existence even vaguely resembling normality.  Even her loving husband Joe Wolf Mantooth is unable to break through her wall of despondency.  His concern grows by the day as Faye sets out every morning to some corner of the island to excavate random units with no rhyme, reason or plan to them—digging holes, it seems, to fill the empty hours.

At the root of Faye’s malaise is the recent arrival of a wealthy Ohio businessman, Oscar Croft, and his confidante, historian and genealogist, Delia Scarsdale.  Croft is seeking evidence to substantiate a family tradition that his great-great-grandfather, Elias Croft, an officer in the Union Army at the close of the Civil War, was held captive, tortured and killed in this area—all at the hands of a Confederate sympathizer, a woman named Cally Stanton.  Faye is devastated by this turn of events, for Cally Stanton, as readers of this series will recall, is Faye’s great-great-grandmother.  Interviews of former slaves conducted by WPA oral historians during the 1930s included Cally Stanton and had given Faye the background to Joyeuse Island and its plantation.  For Cally, who had been born into slavery, had through a remarkable set of circumstances, been freed from that status even before the Civil War and had become mistress of Joyeuse, living there until her death during the Great Depression.  But the great-great-grandmother that Faye had come to know through these oral histories could not possibly have been guilty of the heinous crimes described by Oscar Croft.

It is during one of Faye’s pointless excavation efforts that Faye accidentally punctures a buried container of kerosene, dating back to the 1930s, and it begins to contaminate the soil, requiring the services of an environmental response team—an undertaking that may cost Faye and Joe far more than they can afford on their extremely limited income.

The stresses and strains upon Faye continue to mount as a friend from the mainland—Liz Colton, proprietor of Liz’s Bar and Grill and the adjacent marina, is found brutally murdered and floating in the marina harbor.  One of the suspects is Joe’s father, Sylvester (Sly) Mantooth, recently released from an Oklahoma penitentiary for smuggling drugs, and now staying with Joe and Faye at Joyeuse as he tries to re-establish a relationship with his estranged son.

Tensions mount as more assaults on local women occur and Faye is further burdened when further contamination, this time by arsenic, is discovered in the soils of Joyeuse.  Only when Faye is able to solve the 150 year old mystery of the relationship between her great-great-grandmother and the mysterious Union Army officer who may have become the “Monster Man” of family legend is it possible for the contemporary mysteries and crimes to be solved—and for Faye to once again find peace of mind.

Three trowels for yet another intricately-plotted and entertaining Faye Longchamp mystery.

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