Sunday, November 4, 2012

Archaeology Detectives

The Body in the Mound
John Bedell

Archaeology and mysteries have a strong affinity. Both are concerned with clues, solving puzzles based on limited facts, and getting at the truth. Archaeology usually lacks the pure and definitive satisfaction of the mystery novel ending. Despite, or perhaps  because, of this there have been a lot of archaeology mysteries.

Beginning with Agatha Christie classics like Murder in Mesopotamia, They Came to Bagdad, Man in the Brown Suit, Death Comes as the End and others. Christie was actually married to an archaeologist, Max Mallowan, and spent many years helping him with his digs. Supposedly Murder in Mesopotamia is based  on one of the digs they went on together, including a veiled description of the high strung wife of the head of the excavation and famous archaeologist, Leonard Woolley.

Recently there's been lots of  others: Elizabeth Peters' fabulous Amelia Peabody 19th century Egyptology mysteries,  Lyn Hamilton's Lara McClintoch, Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway series, Kathy Reichs – Temperance Brennan, and the list goes on. There are a lot. Check out: Digging Death. for a list of a bunch of well known ones. I've read a lot of these. Some are very, very good. Some authors just do not understanding how archaeology works and it shows. Archaeology is collaborative, a group activity, not the work of a single genius, no matter how polymath he might be (Indy!).

Recently I've been reading about the work of acclaimed archaeologists like Sarah Wisseman of the University of Illinois, who writes mysteries. John Bedell, who is also a noted professional archaeologist working in the Middle Atlantic region published his first mystery, The Body in the Mound via Amazon e-books. It came to my attention  last spring and I had to get a copy (e-book) of it immediately. As sometimes happens, I could not put it down and read it in about a day but it has taken me some time to write about it.  I really enjoyed it. This story   falls into the category of accidental detective since the character is pulled into the case by circumstance.

Bedell's hard living and hard digging archaeologist Jack Gordon is running an archaeological survey for a gas pipeline near small Pennsylvania  town called Renovo in Clinton County. The survey is looking for archaeological sites in the path of the pipeline.This is, of course, one kind of work that many archaeologists do to pay the bills and to find cool sites and record them before they are destroyed by  construction. Jack profitably runs his own company (possibly the most fantastic part of the story). 

He is asked by the police to look at a murder victim found in a 2,000 year old  but looted Indian burial mound. The mound is of a type called Adena based on a culture centered in Ohio, who buried their dead with rich and unusual artifacts like copper beads, tubular pipes, exotic stone points, and other items. The body is completely modern but its presence in an ancient mound is unexplained. (Honestly, who hasn't thought of hiding a body in a burial mound?)

Jack doesn't understand what is going on but he needs to find out in a hurry as he  is threatened, shot at, and accused of being the murderer.  What ensues is a pretty gritty (literally) struggle to find the truth and the missing artifacts before he ends up in jail or dead. There's lots of local (Renovo) color and locals. This is a fast moving novel and a lot of fun to read. Local archaeologists can read it without worry! John Bedell does know what he's talking about and it holds up pretty well.   

1 comment:

  1. I remember meeting John Bedell in the field at Renovo, as a matter of fact. That was where the Kettle Creek archaeological site was! John worked as a field director there.