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by A. J. Hartley
Berkley, April 2006
400 pages
ISBN: 042520913X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

British-born academic AJ Hartley has combined scholarship with fiction in order to produce his debut novel, a tale with danger lurking at almost every z-bend for protagonist Deborah Miller, curator of a small Atlanta, Georgia museum. Hartley developed an interest in archaeology when a child and now puts his writing skills to use to bring to life archaeological treasures and theories for the interested reader.

Deborah is overseeing a gathering which she and Richard Dixon, her mentor, founder, chief collector and benefactor of the museum where she works, hope will see much-needed funds pumped into the museum's coffers. She goes home weary, but returns to the museum after receiving a phone call urging her to prevent the removal of 'the body.' Once there, she is horrified to discover the corpse of her employer as well as a hidden compartment in which reposes a cache of apparently Mycenaean art treasures which could date back to the Bronze Age.

A pair of rather unpleasant law enforcement officers, the bona fides of one of whom seem to Deborah to be dubious, are in charge of the case. They tell her about the murder of a homeless Russian man she had seen near the museum but insist there is no connection with Richard's killing.

Deborah decides to investigate both the murder and the magnificent hidden collection where could Richard have acquired it and importantly, who has removed what must have been the central object of the collection and why? In order to discover these things, she goes to Greece, thereby fleeing danger that threatens her in the US.

In Greece, she discovers she is in no less danger than she was in Georgia. She forms several alliances, some less likely than others but returns to the US with the case still unsolved. Then she finds she must pursue her investigations in Russia.

The main attraction of this novel is the wealth of archaeological knowledge the author imparts. He provides vivid descriptions of Greece where Heinrich Schliemann, the perhaps less than totally honest archaeologist, plied his trade. Hartley has not stinted on his research and credits his sources in an afterword in which he adjures his readers to seek further illumination.

The tale itself is, perhaps, a little flimsy. It is very much action-driven with not much spared on characterisation. Deborah herself is far from convincing and although she is portrayed as a social misfit, there could have had more insight given into her past life and motivations. Similarly, the other main female character, the maid Tonya, might have benefited from a bit more back story.

The twists in the story are quite interesting but are conceivably a little too far-fetched for a credible plot. For all that, the book is well worth reading and one trusts Hartley will not stop at one novel.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, April 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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