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 Codex by Douglas Preston

Reviewed on: July 1, 2005


Tor Books, New York
April 2005 (pb)

Douglas Preston is one half of the best-selling writing team of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Together the two have authored some great thrillers, such as Relic, which was made into a pretty mediocre movie adaptation; Reliquary; and Still Life with Crows. Another of their team efforts, Thunderhead, is a very good archaeology thriller and I hope to review it in the near future.

In the meantime, Douglas Preston’s The Codex, is a wonderful example of an old-fashioned adventure yarn (with an archaeology back story, of course) with a picaresque atmosphere to it. Briefly stated, the premise of the story goes like this: Maxwell Broadbent, a man made very wealthy by his career of tomb raiding and operating on the shady edges of the antiquities trade, summons his three adult sons – the uptight lawyer, Philip; the hippy dippy lost soul, Vernon; and the Gary Cooper-like large animal veterinarian (who wishes he had become a paleontologist), Tom-to tell them (via a video) that he is dying of cancer and that he’s taken all of his objets d’art (including Old Master paintings, pre-Columbian artifacts, etc., worth more than $500 million) to a lost tomb hidden deep in the Honduran jungles –one he had looted forty years earlier. He has locked himself up in the tomb, with his riches, and if his sons hope to recover these treasures-their inheritance-they must find the jungle tomb!

What follows is a great adventure story as the three brothers, none of them feeling much affection for each other, first begin the hunt separately and then eventually join forces to find the old man’s tomb – and their love and dedication to each other. Tom Broadbent, the main protagonist of the novel, is at first reluctant to join in the treasure hunt-he is perfectly happy to continue his life of anonymous well-being treating sick horses on an Indian reservation in the Southwest. But the lovely and dedicated Sally Colorado beseeches him to hit the trail in search of Dad’s treasure because it includes an ancient Mayan Codex –hence the title of the book-that will give to the world all the secrets of Mayan herbal and plant medicines and homeopathic treatments of disease, long rumored to have been the most advanced medicinal knowledge known to man. This promise of the potential life-saving nature of the treasures hidden in the Honduran tomb, rather than the promise of personal riches -plus the fact that Sally Colorado is a pretty nifty babe-convinces Tom to join the hunt.

This is a classic adventure story, complete with renegade tomb raiders, rain forest indigenes with bow and arrows and blowguns, deadly swamps and rainforests-the whole nine yards. Douglas Preston doesn’t break any new literary ground here-we’ve got elements of H. Rider Haggard, Conan Doyle, “Romancing the Stone,” and more than a tip of the fedora is owed to Indiana Jones-but he does it very well and it’s a great light-reading read for the beach or in front of the fireplace.

Three and half trowels for this one!

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