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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Cuernavaca by Richard Perhacs

Reviewed on: June 1, 2024


Juridico Press:  USA
2014 (PB)

With a newly minted Harvard Ph.D. in hand, Scott Flores seems to have it all:  he is an up and coming young faculty member in the State University of New York-Albany Anthropology Department; he has the friendship and mentoring of respected senior colleague Jerry Dwyer; and most of all, he has the love and devotion of his beautiful wife Lisa, who is newly pregnant with their first child.  This comfortable existence comes crashing down around Scott when Lisa is tragically killed in an auto accident.  Scott’s consumption of alcohol, which had literally been the only contentious element in their otherwise idyllic marriage, roars out of control after Lisa’s death and causes Scott’s descent into paralyzing despair.  He misses classes due to monstrous hangovers, his students take umbrage at his grading delays, and SUNY-Albany is threatened with the loss of a National Science Foundation research grant that Scott was directing, but of late was missing interim progress report deadlines and shirking other Principal Investigator responsibilities.

Despite Jerry Dwyer’s pleadings, the SUNY-Albany administration is adamant:  Scott must resign, although it will be done in such a manner that, should he pull himself together, his academic reputation will not be ruined forever.  Jerry aids in this effort by convincing Scott to join him on a summer project that will take the two of them to an archaeological dig site near Cuernavaca, Mexico:  the historically significant Late Classic (600-900 AD) pre-Columbian site of Xochicalco.  While the site had been excavated and restored years earlier, a recent earthquake had revealed new possibilities for further discovery.  An old friend, National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) archaeologist Arturo Lopez, who is leading the scientific aspects of the Xochicalco dig, has pleaded with Jerry to aid in the excavation by adding his expertise to the interpretation of the site.  Scott’s previous experience in Meso-American archaeology as a student will add additional expertise, and hopefully help him reclaim his life after Lisa’s death.

Once on-site, Jerry and Scott learn that Arturo needs more than their excavation expertise.  It is apparent to Arturo that valuable artifacts, newly excavated, are disappearing from the site on a disturbingly regular basis and he believes, but cannot prove, that Raul Cathedra, the INAH bureaucratic heads of the project, may be at the center of the thievery.  The novel takes off at this point, as Scott in particular finds himself caught in a web of intrigue involving the organized looting of archaeological sites and the intricacies of Mexican presidential politics on its radical fringes—all the while struggling with his inner demons of a lost love, alcoholism and even the possibility of a new love interest.  This intrigue results in Scott’s kidnaping by a band of very unpleasant bandidos.

Attorney Richard Perhacs initial foray into authoring fiction is, to a great degree, a success.  He has created sympathetic and believable protagonists—sensitively portraying Scott’s struggles and Jerry’s kindly affection for his young friend and colleague.  The author’s familiarity with the environs of Cuernavaca—a lovely part of Mexico that richly deserves the sobriquet, “City of Eternal Spring"—is evident in his lovingly rendered descriptions.  There are, however, some elements to the story that detract from its strengths.  For instance, Scott, who despite a degree in anthropology from Harvard and previous field experience in Mexico, confesses to not knowing about the Virgin of Guadalupe—literally the patron saint of all Mexico!  Another bothersome element was the complete dropping of the discovery of a significant archaeological site adjacent to Xochicalco from the storyline.  Nonetheless, this is a good story with strong characters—especially for an author’s first effort.  Three trowels for Cuernavaca.

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