Book Reviews

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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 Amun Chamber by Daniel Leston

Reviewed on: August 1, 2012


Kindle e-Book, 2nd ed.

In August of 1956, Lionel DeCaylus, an amateur archaeologist/drifter/dreamer/scoundrel, died under mysterious circumstances in Cairo, Egypt.  His legacy was that of a family embittered by his desertion of them and an apparently unfulfilled obsession to find the tomb of Alexander the Great.

More than fifty years later, Professor David Manning, successful author, scholar and classical archaeologist, finds himself at professional loose ends as he embarks on a lecture tour that focuses on the tomb of Phillip II of Macedonia, father to Alexander.  His career is at a standstill; his excavation near Pella, the ancient capital of Macedonia, has been shut down indefinitely by government authorities wrangling over private property rights, and while he has had great success with a best-selling work of historical fiction and his publisher is clamoring for another magnum opus, he has hit a towering writer’s block!  His one hope for bursting through that block lays in a cache of letters, written by Lionel DeCaylus to his great-aunt, Edith Whitely, emeritus professor of ancient studies at the University of Thessalonika.  Edith had apparently been a close confidante of DeCaylus back in the old days, and possibly the only person the increasingly paranoid  DeCaylus trusted.  The wild tales included in the letters concerning his search for the treasures of Alexander seemed to provide the plotline grist to David’s novel-writing mill.

It seemed to David almost karmic when, during his Cornell University lecture, he was challenged by none other than a lovely young doctoral student who turned out to be none other than Lionel DeCaylus’ grand-daughter, Elizabeth.  She agrees to help provide him further background on her ne’er-do-well grandfather once he convinces her of the authenticity of the letters written to his great-aunt, and together the two of them explore the nearly-abandoned DeCaylus family home on Cape Cod.  They discover a small trunk in the attic that has apparently gone undisturbed an un-opened since its arrival more than a half-century earlier.   The shipping bill is still attached, postmarked Alexandria, Egypt, and dated August 11, 1956—the day Lionel was killed!  Within the trunk is a beautifully molded golden disk—the sunburst symbol of Macedonian kings.  David is thunderstruck—could Lionel actually have discovered the resting place of Alexander?  Was his obsession actually realized before he died?

From this point on David and Elizabeth form a partnership to follow the winding trail left by the enigmatic Lionel DeCaylus—to perhaps re-discover the secrets he might have unearthed in his search for Alexander’s final resting place.  Alexander had been interred in a magnificent sarcophagus for nearly four hundred years under the rule of the Ptolemy’s and then the Romans, but then the body disappeared to history, although he remained the revered last true son of Amun-Ra, the supreme god of the ancient Egyptians.

The quest for Lionel DeCaylus begins with a visit to Edith Whitely at Salonika and more background information on the strange peripatetic life of the long-dead archaeologist.  Edith urges David and Elizabeth on to Cairo and the aid of her old friend and colleague, Dr. Lewis Gobeir, retired Director of Antiquities at the Cairo Museum.  They soon find themselves mired in the sordid and dangerous world of antiquities thieves and smugglers, but their dogged investigations lead them back in time to an excavation at Tell El Amarna that likely set Lionel on the trail of Alexander’s tomb—and unfortunately his death, not by accident as originally believed, but by murder.  Their hunt for Lionel leads David and Elizabeth to Alexandria, and from there to Mersa Mutruh, a port town on the Mediterranean, and ultimately to the Siwah Oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt.  It is in this desolate land that all the deadly forces arrayed to find the sarcophagus of Alexander clash and David and Elizabeth must battle for their very lives.

Daniel Leston has created an exciting and engaging archaeological thriller, filled it with sympathetic protagonists and thoroughly evil villains.  Vivid descriptions of exotic locations add to the enjoyment of reading the novel.  Unfortunately, the limitations of e-books are often annoyingly apparent as shoddy editing leads to too many typographical and grammatical errors, including the egregious mis-spelling of Heinrich Schliemann’s name!

Three trowels for this enjoyable leisure-time read.

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