Excavating Murder By Hilary Williamson (April 2010)
Dorothy Sayers once said that 'There certainly does seem a possibility that the detective story will come to an end, simply because the public will have learnt all the tricks' - which helps explain the proliferation of mystery sub-genres from those featuring talking animals to ghostly sidekicks to location, location, location settings. And old bones combine with modern murder into fascinating new tricks for authors of the popular sub-genre of archeological mysteries.
The grandmaster of the sub-genre, Elizabeth Peters, holds a PhD in Egyptology. She has carried several generations of readers - and several generations of Emersons - to Amelia Peabody's Egypt for plenty of Victorian (continuing through World War I) mayhem and mystery in her long-running series starring irrepressible early feminist Amelia Peabody and her ever expanding extended family, the most notable members being her 'Father of Curses' husband Emerson and his master criminal/master spy brother Sethos. They venture to Palestine in her 19th episode, A River in the Sky. Another early writer of archeological mysteries, Lyn Hamilton, combines her modern digs with remarkable locations all around the world for her lead, Canadian antiques dealer Lara McClintoch. I enjoy this cozy series for its archeological insights and travel descriptions (of places including Hungary, Ireland, Malta, Mexico, Peru, Scotland, Thailand and Tunisia) even more than the fairly humdrum mysteries that Lara solves.
Of course Barbara Cleverly has been around for a while, but has only recently joined the mystery writing dig gig in her 1920s series starring spirited keen amateur archaeologist Laetitia Talbot (who shares some, but definitely not all, of Amelia's qualities). The first episode, The Tomb of Zeus, was set in Crete and the latest, A Darker God, in Athens. These are good historical mysteries immersed in intriguing archeological excavation and speculation.
Other authors of cozy archeological mysteries include Aileen G. Baron (who also holds a Ph.D in archeology and writes about Lily Sampson and Tamar Saticoy in mid twentieth century Palestine, Morocco, Turkey and Switzerland); Dana Cameron (another professional archeologist who writes about Emma Fielding digging mainly in the Eastern United States); and Mary Anna Evans (whose modern series stars tiny, iron-willed archeologist Faye Longchamp, based in Florida).
I can't leave the subject without mentioning outstanding newcomer Elly Griffiths, who has now given us two eerie British archeological mysteries - The Crossing Places and The Janus Stone - starring a delightful heroine, Ruth Galloway, who lectures in forensic archaeology at the University of North Norfolk. Ruth is independent, overweight, and content to live alone - though her fling with DCI Harry Nelson certainly has unintended consequences. Griffiths' books offer compelling mysteries, colorful characters, and surprises around every standing stone.
If you're a mystery fan and enjoy authors who excavate murder and mayhem along with old bones and ancient artifacts, then dig into these series, both historical and modern, with settings all around the world. Keep learning new mystery tricks, and have a look also at our previous columns on Egypt Revealed and Digging into the Past.
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