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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The Well of the Soul by Doug Powell

Reviewed on: May 1, 2024


WhiteFire Publishing:  Cumberland, MD
2021 (PB)

For some two years, archaeologist and Ancient Near East scholar Graham Eliot had stumbled through life in a near catatonic state and self-imposed period of seclusion as he mourned the tragic death of his young daughter Alyson and the subsequent, perhaps purposeful death of his wife, Olivia.  He was regularly visited by vivid nightmares of his lost loved ones, and his once unshakeable belief in a benevolent God now lay in the past.

It was with some reluctance and trepidation that he determined to attend the annual gathering of the Ancient Near East Society in Dallas.  The impetus for returning to a life, if not free of grief but at least keeping it at bay, was the conference plenary session offered by his old friend and scholarly associate, Dr. Andrew Singer.  In fact, it had been Singer who had introduced Graham to his beloved Olivia.

Singer’s presentation takes place via closed circuit television as he demonstrated the method he devised to deconstruct cartonnage, the papier-mache-like material used to create the funeral masks of Roman era Egyptian mummies.  Because virgin papyrus was often in short supply, previously used and now discarded papyri used for books, letters, business documents, inventories, etc., were employed, using an adhesive glue, to form the masks.  Singer hypothesized that finding a mummy mask from the right time and place could be made from discarded writings of early Church Fathers and perhaps even documents that were to make up the New Testament.  He believed he had been fortunate enough to discover such a mask and was about to demonstrate the method for separating the sheets of cartonnage and testing his theory.

Singer breaks off the closed-circuit demonstration abruptly when he appears to have discerned something incredible etched in the separated papyrus fragments.  To the consternation of the assembled scholars, the renowned scholar seemed to have disappeared, along with the mask fragments.

Graham’s phone and text messages to his friend went unanswered and it wasn’t until the following day, when he was awakened in his hotel room by Special Agent John Bremmer of the FBI’s Art Crime Team, that he learned that Andrew Singer had returned to his office in Oklahoma City—some two hundred miles from Dallas-- whereupon he had been murdered and his workspace tossed.  To his chagrin, Graham discovered that Singer had sent images to his cell phone and those images hinted at the existence of a treasure map—a map that might lead to the location of long-rumored and generally-dismissed tales of vast riches hidden before the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD.

Graham reluctantly agrees, at the urging of both Bremmer of the FBI and Chaim Yaniv of the Israel Antiquities Authority, to undertake what is essentially a treasure hunt that will find him wandering in the tunnels and catacombs beneath Jerusalem’s Temple Mount in search of those perhaps illusory treasures.  All the while he must desperately evade the efforts of brutal tomb raiders, led by the villainous antiquities thief who calls himself “Karanlik”—Turkish for “shadow’-- who are certain of the treasure’s existence and will stop at nothing to possess it.

Along the way, the reader will be introduced to a comprehensive but easily digested history of archaeological expeditions in Palestine and later Israel from the mid 19th Century to the present day, and how those investigations informed the plot of this thriller.  The author deftly addresses the tensions and conflicts among three great religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—co-existing in a city held sacred by all three.  While the author, a Christian apologist in the tradition of St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas on down to C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, portrays his protagonist, Graham Eliot, as a man in the throes of losing his faith, he does so in an undogmatic fashion and treats the three religions with equal dignity.

While an imaginative thriller, an accurate history of archaeology in the Holy Land, and a perceptive study of a sympathetic yet damaged hero, the book could also serve as a street by street, turn by turn guidebook of the less traveled streets and byways of Jerusalem.

Three trowels for this initial volume in the Graham Eliot series of archaeological adventures.

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