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 Riddle of Solomon by D.J. Niko

Reviewed on: January 1, 2015


Medallion Press
2013 (PB)

D.J. Niko’s “Sarah Weston Chronicles” are simply stated, a guilty pleasure!  The Riddle of Solomon follows hot on the heels of The Tenth Saint, which was reviewed here some months ago.  In that initial volume, the reader was introduced to feisty Cambridge archaeologist, Sarah Weston, and her sometimes lover/sometimes bete noir, American anthropologist Daniel Madigan.  Together, the two foiled a nefarious plot hatched in the wilds of Ethiopia.  Unfortunately, the archaeological mission they were on turned out rather disastrously and as we catch up with our heroine, she is now an ex-Cambridge archaeologist working as an assistant to Daniel Madigan in the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia.

Digging in a desolate area called the Valley of the Wind, Sarah unearths an acacia saddle frame and a clay pot embossed with a human-headed, winged lion amidst the telltale remains of a caravan long lost to history.  Following an attack by Bedouin tribesmen, Sarah discovers a buried alabaster box, decorated with the same human/lion motif that contains a papyrus scroll inscribed with Egyptian hieratic writing.  The text of the scroll, translated by Mariah Banai, a colleague of Daniel’s who heads up the department of languages at King Saud University, is obscure in meaning but does seem to hint at secrets long lost to humanity.  Further analysis indicates that the scroll may have originated in ancient Israel and that the writing was done by a woman scribe in service to an Egyptian queen.  Mariah believes the queen in question may have been Jezebel of Old Testament infamy and that the text alludes to her hidden treasure, while Sarah believes it refers to the Queen of Sheba and the lost secret is somehow tied to the arcane mythologies that swirled around her lover, King Solomon.

Disaster after disaster befalls the Valley of the Wind project as it becomes apparent that the Bedouin attack was no one-off occurrence and that sinister forces are at work to learn the secrets contained in the scroll.  Both Sarah and Daniel must face dangers at every turn as they match wits with a megalomaniac who sees himself as the rightful heir to the throne of King David and his son Solomon—the Messiah, who will re-build the Temple to Yahweh in present-day Jerusalem.  To do so, he will regrettably need to foment a war with a few million Muslims—but such are the ways of megalomaniacs.

As I stated at the outset, Sarah Weston’s adventures are a guilty pleasure.  The heroine and hero are endearing, although they often do incredibly stupid things that put them in harm’s way.  The villain is villainous beyond belief but is equally prone to doing stupid stuff, like simply killing Sarah and/or Daniel when he has the chance.  So the reader must employ a great deal of suspension of disbelief and must put up with some jaw-dropping metaphors and similes.  But through it all is a fun summer-time or mid-winter read.  I love Sarah and Daniel, but The Riddle of Solomon still earns only two trowels.

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