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 Dead Sea Codex by Sarah Wisseman

Reviewed on: July 1, 2006


Hard Shell Word Factory:  Amherst Junction, WI
2006 (pb)

Several months ago I reviewed Sarah Wisseman’s initial Lisa Dona hue mystery, Bound for Eternity, and found much that I liked about it.  The book was not without its shortcomings, however, and I concluded my review with hopes that future editions would see some of those shortcomings addressed.  I was very pleased with this second installment in the Lisa Donahue series, and I think there are several reasons for this.

First of all, author Wisseman incorporates a rather unusual plot device in that this episode takes place almost a decade before the first book, Bound for Eternity.  Not only is Lisa a younger heroine, but a more adventurous one.  The Dead Sea Codex takes place in 1997, before Lisa is married, becomes a mother and is widowed, and while those life conditions may lend substance to her character and gravitas to her life, they can also get in the way of a single-minded focus on the mystery at hand.  In this case, it is Lisa’s accidental involvement in the hunt for a First Century A.D. codex hidden the caves adjacent to the ancient site of Massada in Israel.

Her purpose in visiting Israel is to negotiate the loan of artifacts from an Israeli museum to the University of Pennsylvania Museum, where she is an ABD graduate assistant.  She meets up with a lover from the past, the peripatetic archaeologist Greg Manzur, who embroils her in the search for the ancient documents that may shed light on a very different interpretation of the early Christian religion.  This hunt becomes more than

A simple field excavation as dead bodies begin to pile up and it is evident that not everyone who’s looking for the codex is interested simply in the scholarship of First Century Christianity.  Bedouin relic hunters seek to maximize their profits by fragmenting the ancient documents; the Israeli and Jordanian governments both have a keen interest in the exact provenance of the codex; and a shadowy (and violent) fundamentalist sect called Les Agents de Dieu seek to destroy the documents at all costs—including murder.

Sarah Wisseman’s second entry in the Lisa Dona hue series is entertaining and satisfying.  It is a slim volume (only 150 pages in length) and this is a strength.  Her prose is spare but evocative and one gains an insight into the sights and smells and atmosphere of Israel, from the souks of the Old City to the incredible desolation of the Dead Sea area.  The characters are credible and the adventure and the danger—especially in the environment of the Dead Sea caves—are palpable.   I look forward to more of Lisa’s archaeological adventures—as either a care-free ABD or as a world-weary widow and single parent.

Three trowels for Sarah Wisseman’s The Dead Sea Codex.

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