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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Four Thousand Days by M.J. Trow

Reviewed on: November 1, 2023


Severn House:  Edinburgh, Scotland
2021 (HC)

M.J. Trow is a well-published Welsh writer who has begun a new series of mysteries featuring the very real historical figure, Margaret Murray.  Murray was an Anglo-Indian Egyptologist, anthropologist, historian and folklorist who was also the first woman appointed as Lecturer in archaeology at University College London (UCL), with a tenure that spanned the period 1898 to 1935.  She was a friend and confidante of the famed archaeologist Sir William Flinders Petrie, with whom she worked on digs in Egypt and Palestine, as well as excavations in Jordan, Malta and Menorca.  She was a prolific scholar who died in 1935, a few short months after her 100th birthday!

Author Trow picks up the adventures of this incredible woman in October 1900, as she lectures before a class of aspiring young archaeologists at UCL during the early part of the week and opens the lecture to the general public on Fridays.  Among these is police Constable Adam Crawford, who has a deep and abiding interest in archaeology.  While carrying out his duties as a “copper” in the seedy environs of Tothill Street in Westminster, Crawford discovers the very dead body of Alice Groves, a Tothill Street prostitute.  But Crawford has come to know the victim as Helen Richardson, a fellow Friday archaeology lecture attendee and devotee of Roman archaeology.  While Crawford’s superior—the oafish Inspector Athelgar Blunt of Scotland Yard—sees the situation as the suicide of a “fallen” lady of the night, the young constable suspects murder.  He and a fellow student (with whom he is romantically smitten!) prevail upon Professor Murray to lend her considerable skills in investigating the long dead to the case of Alice Groves/Helen Richardson—the newly dead. 

During her investigations, which leads her to a dig on the beach at Hampton-on-Sea in Kent, Murray joins forces with another historical figure, retired Scotland Yard Inspector Reid, who in real life was deeply involved in the investigation of the Jack the Ripper murders a decade or so earlier.  While following up reports that may have put Helen Richardson near the ruins of Regulbium, an ancient Roman fort on the beach near Reculver in Kent, Reid discovers the body of a young woman identified as Emmeline Barker, a former archaeology post-graduate student at King’s College, the academic rival to UCL.  Murray discovers some fragments of Latin text in the victim’s possession, and when she seeks the translation skills of her UCL colleague Norman Minton, he too is brutally murdered.  While the police believe the three killings to be completely unrelated, Murray and Constable Crawford believe otherwise.  Margaret Murray’s dogged investigations, aided by the wife of Rudyard Kipling, no less, lead her to discover the existence of an artifact of immense importance and to come face to face with the three-time killer who will stop at nothing to preserve his right to reveal to the world the shocking truth the artifact will divulge.

Four trowels for this extremely atmospheric and entertaining initial Margaret Murray mystery.  May there be many more!

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