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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Byron’s Shadow by Jason Foss

Reviewed on: July 1, 2022


Endeavour Press Ltd:  London
2014 (e-book)

In early 2016, I reviewed an archaeology mystery written by Jason Foss (pen name for Jason Monaghan) that featured British archaeologist Jeffrey Flint as the somewhat reluctant protagonist-hero.  While originally penned in the 1990s, I found Lady in the Lake a cleverly conceived mystery—a bit like Agatha Christie’s wonderful archaeology whodunits—with an engaging, if reluctant archaeologist-sleuth in Jeffrey Flint.

Because there’s been a bit of a dearth in archaeological fiction of late, I decided to return to Flint and an earlier entry in that brief (five in number) series—Byron’s Shadow.

The story opens with Flint confronted by Emma Woodbine at a Hellenic Society reception in London.  Seven years earlier, she and Flint had been grudging colleagues on a survey project at the Greek site of Palaeokastro on the gulf of Argos—a Greek town burned by the Romans in 146 BC, re-built by the Romans in 40 BC, deserted by the 6th Century AD, and subsequently excavated and looted by Nazi archaeologists in the 1930s.  The present dig was to seek evidence of the ancient town’s economy, farming and field systems, and the lives of ordinary people.

Flint was a young, politically radical and appropriately scruffy, doctoral candidate, understudy to the older, didactic, and thoroughly conventional Professor Sebastian T.D. Embury aka “the Dalek” for his repeated exhortation to “Excavate!  Excavate!”   Flint and Embury are at constant loggerheads, both professionally and personally, and as a result, Embury sends Flint to survey the archaeologically barren upper olive grove edge of the site while keeping the artifact-rich lower areas for himself and his favored acolytes.  In fact, Flint’s efforts yield little other than a battered fountain pen with the name “Byron F. Nichols” etched in it. 

The non-descript project suddenly turns deadly when Embury is found brutally murdered after a mysterious late night rendezvous in the nearby town of Nauplion.  But Flint is the number one suspect—he drove Embury to Nauplion and later found the body in his vehicle and the police seem ill-disposed to believe he didn’t know what happened in between—primarily because he had scampered off to visit his latest lady love, a desirable young tour guide named Lisa Morgan, while the crime was committed.  Strings are mysteriously pulled and Flint is hustled out of Greece and back to the UK. 

The chance meeting with Emma at the Hellenic Society soiree (Emma still holds Flint responsible for Embury’s death) convinces Flint that he must go back to Greece and once and for all clear his name.  He once again joins up with Lisa and the two methodically, albeit surreptitiously, set about to solve the murder of Sebastian Embury—still a cold case after more than seven years.  Flint firmly believes Embury’s murder was directly related to his excavations in the lower section of the Palaeokastro Site he jealously reserved for himself.  But his unfolding investigation, and the increasing dangers he and Lisa face, hint that perhaps it was his area of the excavation in the olive grove—and even the battered fountain pen belonging to Byron F. Nichols,  a World War II commando operating in Greece—that held the answers to Embury’s murder.

Byron’s Shadow is a compelling mystery set against the background of the bloodletting of the Greek Civil War of 1944-50, and its echoes even fifty years beyond.  Four trowels for the second entry in the Jeffrey Flint series.

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