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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Sheba by Jack Higgins

Reviewed on: October 1, 2021


Berkley Books:  New York
1995 (PB)

Jack Higgins’ Sheba is an old-fashioned rollicking thriller—tailor made for a snowbound weekend or a lazy few days at the beach.  It features an exotic geography (the shores of the Gulf of Aden on into the Empty Quarter of southern Arabia), an intrepid archaeologist/adventurer/part-time smuggler, a ravishingly beautiful exotic heroine who runs a trading organization whose tentacles span from Zanzibar to Singapore, a variety of truly scabrous villains as well as lots of Nazis AND the fabled lost temple of Bilqis, the Queen of Sheba!  What is there not to love about a literary package like that!

The epic opens in March of 1939 as Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of German intelligence—the Abwehr—and his aide Luftwaffe Captain Hans Ritter are given a special assignment by Adolf Hitler.  In September the full force of the mighty German military will be brought to bear in a lightning strike on Poland, with plans to roll on through the Low Countries and France, forcing the British into the sea if they resist the inevitable Nazi victory.  To insure Britain’s acquiescence, Canaris and Ritter are to mount a mission to destroy the Suez Canal, thus virtually cutting Britain’s empire in half.  They plot to launch the secret attack, using the archaeological dig directed by avowed Nazi, Professor Otto Muller in the Rubh al Khali, the Empty Quarter, of southern Arabia, as a cover.  His goal is to unearth the Temple of Asthar, a pre-Islamic Arabian goddess built by Bilqis, the Biblical Queen of Sheba, who was thought to be a high priestess of the cult.

Fast forward to August, 1939, and Gavin Kane, “retired” lecturer in archaeology at Columbia University turned smuggler, is introduced to the beautiful Ruth Cunningham, who is anxious to hire Kane to find her husband, archaeologist John Cunningham, who has gone missing in the Empty Quarter for several months in his search, based upon the writings of a Roman centurion, for the lost Temple of Asthar—the very same legendary site that Otto Muller was excavating.  Though Kane doubts that John Cunningham is still alive, he agrees (for a healthy fee) to head into the Empty Quarter with Ruth to seek out her missing husband, in indeed he still lives.  With the help of Marie Perret, the lovely young French-Arab entrepreneur, they head into the vast wasteland, where the sere environment is made even more deadly due to roaming gangs of bandits and slavers.   They follow Cunningham’s faint trail into the desert, survive a plane crash, tilt with bandits, and finally find Cunningham—and the hidden ruins of Sheba’s Temple—only to be captured by Nazis and their local sympathizers, bent on launching an attack on the Suez Canal.

What follows is high adventure at its very best—part Casablanca and part Indiana Jones—as Gavin Kane struggles to unite Ruth Cunningham with her missing husband, thwart the Nazis in their craving to destroy the Suez Canal, and win the heart of the woman he has long desired, the beautiful Marie Perret.

Four trowels for Sheba!

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