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!

Back to all reviews

Black Acorns by Vanessa Gordon

Reviewed on: December 1, 2023


Dolman Scott Ltd:  Thatcham UK
2021 (PB)

Vanessa Gordon’s third “Naxos Mystery” continues her charming accounts of the adventures of archaeologist/television “presenter” Martin Day as he continues to settle in as a permanent inhabitant of the idyllic Greek island of Naxos.  Despite the bucolic nature of Naxos, which author Gordon gracefully describes with loving vividness, Martin Day does seem to stumble into situations rife with crime and skullduggery (I’ve always wanted to use that term in one of these reviews!).

The narrative opens two years earlier when thieves have stolen a spectacular collection of Greek antiquities from the home of a wealthy American ex-pat in the foothills of the Taygetus Mountains of mainland Greece.  With the passage of time, the trail has grown cold and only Athens police inspector Andreas Nomikos, an unabashed lover of his Greek heritage, remains obsessed with the case.  Meanwhile, Martin Day and his friends on Naxos are wrapping up a variety of efforts and embarking on new ones.  Day has finished his biography of the late Nikos Elias (see his earlier adventure, The Meaning of Friday) and hopes to begin work with his friend and colleague from the British Museum, Alex Harding-Jones, on the famed museum’s Greek ceramics collection.   His long-time friend and platonic housemate, author Helen Aitchison, has completed her latest novel and has agreed to play a key role, including final keynote lecturer, in the Naxos Literary Festival.  Festival attendees will be staying at Day’s guest house, the former home and museum of Nikos Elias.  Among the conference participants are author Ricky Somerset, reckoned by many literary critics as the 21st Century Graham Green, and husband of Ben Lear, a childhood friend of Martin Day.

Meanwhile, Nick Kiloziglou, historic restoration consultant and friend of Martin Day, has begun work on the nearby di Quercia Tower, owned by a prominent Venetian family.  Towers like that on Naxos were established throughout the Mediterranean by Venetian traders as fortified bastions against pirates and marauders.  During his preliminary efforts, Nick discovers an elegant bronze miniature of a horse hidden in the tower.  Martin identifies it as an artifact from the mid 8th Century BCE, and learns, following an internet search, that the miniature is part of a collection stolen two years earlier from a wealthy American living in the Taygetus Mountains.  Inspector Nomikos is immediately apprised of this new development in this long-dormant case.

Later that week, tragedy strikes when the burned body of author Ricky Somerset is found at the base of the di Quercia Tower and Martin’s old acquaintance Ben Lear is the police’s number one suspect.  Martin believes in Lear’s innocence—that the discovery of a 2,000-year-old artifact found in a 300-year-old building where an English author was found dead is too much of a coincidence.  Martin’s investigations, reluctantly accepted by the authorities, lead him on a circuitous trail that connects events in the distant past that resulted in twenty years of seething hatred that boiled over at the di Quercia Tower.  His quest for the truth also leads Martin into deadly personal peril as ghosts from the past strive to stay in the past.

As with the earlier Martin Day adventures, the mystery and its solving seem at times almost secondary to the lovely and lyrical hymn to the beauty of the Greek island that figures so prominently in these novels—the rugged yet fertile landscape of Naxos, its ancient ruins and long stretches of beach, and the delightful portrayal of taverna life and cuisine.

Four trowels for Black Acorns.

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