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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Twenty Years of Archaeology in Fiction by Bill Gresens

Reviewed on: May 1, 2021

My editorial Svengali (Bonnie Jancik) suggested that an appropriate way to mark twenty years of penning (or keyboarding) these book reviews of archaeological fiction might be to list the twenty best novels I’ve reviewed over those two decades.  What I have endeavored to do is to list the best from each of the twenty years—2001 to 2021.  This purely and unashamedly a subjective undertaking with only two rather vague standards: 1) that the author demonstrates a fairly realistic understanding of the processes of archaeology, and 2) that I really enjoyed the book.  I refuse to divulge which of these two criteria might be most important!  Please note that the 12-month “years” run from March 1 through February 1.  So here goes:

Bill Gresens

  • The Celtic Riddle by Lynn Hamilton (Reviewed July 1, 2001)
    Antiques collector Lara McClintock aids her friend Alex Stewart to puzzle out the treasure hunt clues left in the last will and testament of a wealthy Irish businessman.  I read this book and wrote the review in a lovely little pub in the Dingle Peninsula of Ireland!
  • The Menorah Men by Lionel Davidson (Reviewed February 1, 2003)
    Archaeologist Caspar Laing leaves the comforts of academia for a world of danger as he seeks to decipher a fragment of a Dead Sea Scroll to unearth the golden menorah stolen from the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 B.C.
  • Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters (Reviewed January 1, 2004)
    The first in the twenty-volume set of the adventures of Victorian heroine Amelia Peabody as she finds romance and danger (and a future husband in the person of archaeologist Radcliffe Emerson) in late 19th century Egypt.  This series is one of the gold standards of archaeological fiction!
  • Lake of Sorrows by Erin Hart (Reviewed January 1, 2005)
    American forensic pathologist Nora Gavin journeys to the midlands of Ireland to assist in the excavation of a well-preserved Iron Age peat bog body—but the body is wearing a wrist watch!
  • The Seventh Sanctuary by Daniel Easterman (Reviewed May 1, 2005)
    Excavating in the blistering heat of the Egyptian desert, American archaeologist David Rosen discovers the re-birth of an obscenity the world thought had been put to rest nearly a half-century earlier.
  • Thunderhead by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child (Reviewed August 1, 2006)
    Archaeologist Nora Kelly’s father had disappeared in the remote desert of Utah sixteen years earlier, but a long lost letter written by her father outs her on the trail of a legendary Anasazi lost city of gold.
  • Effigies by Mary Anna Evans (Reviewed June 1, 2007)
    Archaeologist Faye Longchamp and her partner Joe Wolf Mantooth are caught in a deadly confrontation in rural Mississippi between members of the Choctaw nation and a white farmer on whose land is located a mound sacred to the native peoples.
  • The Shining Skull by Kate Ellis (Reviewed November 1, 2008)
    Detective Inspector Wesley Peterson’s investigation of two kidnappings thirty years apart and archaeologist Neil Watson’s exhumation of a bizarre Regency Era burial converge in a most deadly way.
  • Murder in the Museum of Man by Alfred Alcorn (Reviewed October 1, 1009)
    In this riotous send-up of academic eccentricities, Recording Secretary for the Museum of Man (MOM) and would-be amateur sleuth Norman de Ratour—trained as an archaeologist but disdaining fieldwork—puts his skills to the test to solve the gruesome cannibalized murder of Cranston Fessing, a “visiting administrative dean” charged with sniffing out administrative improprieties.
  • The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths (Reviewed June 1, 2010)
    Ritual sacrifice seems to be at the heart of a little girl gone missing ten years earlier and the remains of a two thousand year old burial found in the saltmarshes of rural England excavated by archaeologist Ruth Galloway as she aids DCI Harry Nelson in his investigations. 
  • The Jackal Man by Kate Ellis (Reviewed November 1, 2011)
    Archaeologist Neil Watson’s cataloging of Edwardian Era Egyptologist Sir Frederick Varley’s collected papers bring to light eerie similarities between murders committed in 1903 and present day ritual murders of young women under investigation by DI Wesley Peterson.
  • Toward the Gleam by T.M. Doran (Reviewed June 1, 2012)
    Between the World Wars, Oxford philologist John Hill discovers a cache of manuscripts in a cave deep in the English countryside.  His investigations give us the “true” story behind Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings!
  • The Map of Lost Memories by Kim Fay (Reviewed July 1, 2013)
    The ambiance and atmosphere of 1920s Southeast Asia provide the background of this beautifully written novel about young Irene Blum’s voyage of discovery as she and a small cadre of adventurers seek the answers to the enduring mystery of the Khmer people and the ancient site we have come to know as Angkor Wat.
  • On the Third Day by Piers Paul Read (reviewed July 1, 2014)
    Hidden in a cistern beneath the Dome of the Rock in Old Jerusalem, Archaeologist Michal Dagan and his son discover the remains of a man likely crucified in the first century A.D.  This discovery could shake the very foundations of the Christian world!
  • The Lifers’ Club by Francis Pryor (Reviewed December 1, 2015)
    The life of a contract archaeologist is vividly and accurately portrayed in this initial novel penned by BBC Time Team’s Francis Pryor.  Itinerant archaeologist Alan Cadbury seeks the truth behind the conviction of a young Turkish man, accused of “honor” killing of his sister, who had worked on a dig in the Fen Country seven years earlier.  Alan cannot believe in the young man’s guilt and his search for the truth nearly costs him his life.
  • Sunken Dreams by Steven Kuehn (Reviewed April 1, 2016)
    “Wisconsin State University” archaeologist Jacob Caine is drawn into a more than a decade old mystery as he seeks to complete the work on an Oneota site in east central Wisconsin begun by WSU archaeologist Jacklyn Wardell.  The site lay unexplored since Jacklyn’s tragic drowning accident during the field school season she was supervising.  But what if it wasn’t an accident?  What if it was murder?
  • Burials by Mary Anna Evans (Reviewed March 1, 2017)
    Almost thirty years have passed since a Muscogee (Creek) Nation site was closed down after the disappearance of archaeologist Sophia Townsend.  When Faye Longchamp undertakes an archaeological consultancy for the tribe and Sophia’s remain are unearthed, the trail of the long-ago killer draws uncomfortably close to those near and dear to Faye.
  • The Seventh Scroll by Wilbur Smith (Reviewed September 1, 2018)
    This is a tale in the best tradition of H. Ryder Haggard and Talbot Mundy as it follows the adventures of archaeologist Royan al Simma, widow of the brutally slain Director of the Egyptian Department of Antiquities, who intends to complete her husband’s quest to discover Pharaoh Mamose’s tomb and its incredible cache of riches, whose location is hinted at in the last of seven scrolls recently unearthed by archaeologists.
  • The Hidden Bones by Nicola Ford (Reviewed October 1, 2019)
    The techniques and processes of archaeology are central to this captivating initial effort by Nicola Ford, pseudonym for Dr. Nick Snashall of the British National Trust.  Salisbury University archaeologist David Barbrook and his assistant Clare Hills are hired to curate the papers of the deceased eccentric archaeologist Gerald Hart, director of the fabulously rich Bronze Age site called Hungerbourne Barrows, excavated in the early 1970s.  Why did Hart abruptly close down the dig even as it was yielding fabulous artifacts?  David and Clare soon find that even after nearly fifty years, passions can run deep and buried secrets should perhaps remain buried.
  • Old Bones by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child (Reviewed June 1, 2020)
    Nora Kelly, heroine of the 1999 thriller, Thunderhead, returns in this tale that revolves around the excavation of the fabled “lost camp” of the Donner party, the ill-fated band of pioneers who lost their way in an 1846 blizzard as they migrated from the Midwest to California.  Death continues to haunt the site just as it did 170 years earlier.