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The Orkney Scroll: An Archaeological Mystery    by Lyn Hamilton order for
Orkney Scroll
by Lyn Hamilton
Order:  USA  Can
Berkley, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Orkney Scroll follows The Moai Murders as the tenth in the Archaeological Mystery series starring Canadian antiques dealer Lara McClintoch, who's embroiled in mayhem and murder in fascinating locations all over the world. This time, art fraud and axe murder set her on the trail of a Viking legend. It starts with a quote from a Viking saga - 'Before he went mad, Bjarni the Wanderer hid the cauldron in the tomb of the orcs.' Hamilton continues to thread accounts of Bjarni's world travels and tribulations through the book, contrasting ancient legend with modern mystery.

At this stage in the series, Lara is in a business partnership with her ex-husband Clive Swain (who now partners her best friend Moira) and in a life partnership with RCMP officer Rob Luczka. None of them are very active in this episode, though Rob's undercover investigation of money laundering does eventually tie in. Scottish antiquities dealer (a Sean Connery look-alike) Trevor Wylie sells a valuable Charles Rennie Mackintosh writing cabinet to a long-time client of Lara's, wealthy lawyer (and fanatical Art Nouveau collector) Blair Baldwin. He asks her to look it over. When she 'can't find anything wrong with it', Blair purchases it on the spot and then holds a fancy cocktail party to celebrate.

Blair is enraged and Lara humiliated when the cabinet turns out to be a reproduction, and soon afterwards she discovers Trevor's corpse, 'an axe buried in what was left of his skull.' Blair Bazillionaire, as Lara calls him, is arrested for murder. Lara finds out that Trevor had actually acquired two similar cabinets, and tags on a visit to Scotland to a European buying trip. In Glasgow, she bumps into a young Scot who shared the discovery of Wylie's corpse with her, and whom she nicknamed Mr. Bicycle Clips. After the trail leads to Orkney, he shows up again as does Trevor's last girlfriend, Willow who's looking for a legacy, and Robert and Maya Alexander, rich philanthropists who also collect Mackintosh furniture. Eventually, Lara manages to fit together all the puzzle pieces she's collected into a chilling picture.

I enjoy this series for the archaeological insights, and the travel descriptions even more than the mysteries that Lara solves. Hamilton's description of a circle of megaliths makes me want to get on a plane to Orkney, to ask the same questions her heroine does: 'What ancient ceremonies would have taken place there? What deities did these people believe in? When had the Vikings arrived?' On their own, the mysteries aren't out of the ordinary, but Lyn Hamilton gives them contexts and settings that raise the bar to make them much more intriguing reads.

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