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 Explorer’s Code by Kitty Pilgrim

Reviewed on: April 1, 2012


Scribner:  New York
2011 (HC)

Former CNN journalist and co-anchor Kitty Pilgrim has written an often-charming, sometimes puzzling adventure yarn that takes its protagonists from the high society enclaves of Monaco to the frozen wastes of arctic Norway, with numerous stops in between.

Briefly stated, the novel follows the adventures of the incredibly handsome and super-wealthy archaeologist John Sinclair and the lovely young oceanographer (and orphan) Cordelia Stapleton on a treasure hunt across much of Europe.  As the story opens, Cordelia has been convinced to take a break from her deep-sea research off the coast of California and journey to Monaco to receive a posthumous award for her great-great grandfather Elliott Stapleton, a renowned Victorian Era polar explorer, from the prestigious Herodotus Foundation.  John Sinclair, chairman of the Herodotus foundation, takes a break from his excavations at Ephesus, Turkey, to make the award, and when the two meet at the gala ward—well, let’s just say there is magic in the air.

But there is also danger in the air, for Cordelia has also been informed that her only living relative (who refused to have anything to do with her after she was orphaned at the age of twelve) has died, leaving the entire Stapleton estate to her—an estate that includes properties in England and land in far north Norway, which had been mined by her great-great grandfather’s coal mining company.  But to verify the legitimacy of this latter bequest, she must produce the deed to the Norwegian land—a deed which has been missing for most of the 20th Century. A long-forgotten journal penned by Elliott Stapleton has been discovered in the archives of the Oceanographic Institute and is presented to Cordelia by John Sinclair; perhaps it holds a key to the location of the missing deed.  It soon becomes apparent, however, that sinister forces are at work, trying desperately to discover the location of the deed before Cordelia is able to establish her rights.  Cordelia’s life is in constant danger almost from the moment she sets foot in Monaco, and the dashing John Sinclair provides protection for the endangered damsel.

As the plot unfolds it is apparent that the Russian mafia is relentlessly seeking the missing deed, but so is the Norwegian government and a clandestine arm of the United States security apparatus.  And the reader is constantly reminded that Cordelia has only known her benefactor John Sinclair for a very brief period of time and the threats to her very life commenced only after she had been drawn to him.  Toss into this mix two British virologists who attempt to recover human tissue from the bodies of miners buried at the site of Stapleton coal mine who were victims of the 1919 “Spanish” flu pandemic, a doomsday Global Seed Vault also located on the Norwegian land included in the missing deed and a group of crazed Christian fundamentalists who wish to destroy it, and you have the ingredients for a wonderfully rollicking adventure.

I have reviewed any number of novels lately that relate tales of high adventure and treasure hunting in one form or another, but this is the first told by a woman author and I found it a refreshing change of pace from the male take on this genre.  There is a greater focus on the romantic aspects of the story—and quite often these depictions are rather sweet and almost old fashioned.  The pace seems less hectic than is often the case in adventure novels and there’s a greater emphasis on descriptions of place and location.  Most male-oriented adventures rely heavily on graphically violent, blood-splattered action scenes to carry the plotline—Ms. Pilgrim, to her credit, fell into this trap on only two occasions, and frankly, they weren’t all that necessary to the storyline.

There were a few scenes that were somewhat puzzling in that her protagonists—for the most part level-headed and rational creatures—would occasionally behave in uncharacteristic ways.  Cordelia would forsake her mature ways and suddenly behave like a petulant adolescent or Sinclair would, after repeatedly noting the need for Cordelia to be under constant surveillance because of the dangers that she was facing, would almost absent-mindedly lose track of her!

Nonetheless, this is a satisfying first novel and a welcome addition to a genre that is too often relegated to male writers and male readers.  Two trowels for Kitty Pilgrim’s The Explorer’s Code.

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