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 Bog by Michael Talbot

Reviewed on: March 1, 2006


Jove Books: New York
1987 (pb)

The Bog, which is the third entry in this series of “oldies but goodies” book reviews, could be sub-titled “Archaeology horror fiction done Right.”  Compared to the previous two reviewed novels—Stolen Souls and Tomb Seven The Bog is a tightly plotted, tense, and atmospheric novel.  This is not to say it is a work of high literary art.  After all, a story that features a sorcerer who first walked the earth some 4,500 years ago in ancient Ebla and who controls a demon even older than he is not likely to be mistaken for a Faulkner novel!  Nonetheless, Michael Talbot has combined vivid characters, a sense of dread and tension, and an imaginative plot steeped in ancient myth and religion.

The story opens in 53 BC during the occupation of the British Isles by Roman legions.  A young Celtic woman is sacrificed to an ancient god that inhabits the fetid environment of Hovern Bog.  Author Talbot then fast forwards to the present day when the marvelously preserved “bog body” of the sacrificed young woman is discovered by the research assistant to American archaeologist David Macauley, who is a visiting scholar at Oxford University.  Much to his wife Melanie’s dismay, Macauley moves himself, Melanie and their two young children to the tiny village of Fenchurch St. Jude, which is near Hovern Bog, so he might carry on the excavation of this exciting find.

The people of Fenchurch are a strange and withdrawn people, who. David soon learns, fear the Marquis de l’Isle, a nobleman of ancient heritage who controls by force of will and personality the affairs of Fenchurch and Hovern Bog.  After a rather cold introduction to the Marquis, David is pleasantly surprised when the nobleman offers him and his family the use of a wonderful cottage on the edge of the Bog  The cottage would bring David to literally within walking distance of the bog body excavation.

The intuitive reader might begin to think, “Oh oh, this is doesn’t look good,” but David is apparently new to being a major character in a horror novel and he and his family take up residence in the quaint little house.   We soon learn that the bog body shows evidence of a truly horrific death by a creature whose teeth marks appear unlike that of any known carnivorous animal.  A second bog body is discovered, showing the same bite marks, and the tension is heightened even more when David and Melanie are invited to the Marquis’ country house, Wythern Hall, for an evening visit.  Not only are they introduced to the Marquis’ “friend,” the exotic and possibly diabolical Julia,  They are served bog myrtle wine, which seems to trigger bizarre hallucinations –or are they hallucinations?

Michael Talbot continues to crank up the tension as more bog bodies—this time a Roman legionnaire and a high-borne Roman woman—are discovered; the former bitten and torn like the other bog bodies, the latter dead by her own hand.  Then a Fenchurch pub worker is found dead on the bog, showing the same familiar bite marks!  Can the same creature that stalked the Bog before the time of Christ still be about its deadly business?

Talbot builds to a climax worthy of the setting and his developing plot.  Along the way David Macauley must match wits with a sorcerer who was already ancient when the pyramids of Egypt were being built and his even more ancient demon.  The lives and the very souls of his wife and children are on the line as he struggles against this fiendish foe.

This is a great potboiler!  It was made to be read on dark and stormy nights and if you enjoy a delightful shiver or two while reading your guilty pleasures, this is a book for you!  It’s been out of print for a long time but still has used copies going for as little as 77 cents!

3 trowels for this little gem!

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