Bringing out the dead

I've only just come across the work of Barbara Cleverly. Apparently she's already fairly well known for a series of detective stories set in colonial India in the 1920s. The tomb of Zeus, published in 2007, is the first in a new series also set in the 1920s centring around the archaeologist Laetitia Talbot. Letty sets off to Crete for her first major dig, an exciting place to be headed for a young archaeologist following Arthur Evans' great discoveries at Knossos earlier in the century. However on arrival at the Villa Europa, home of the renowned archaeologist Theodore Russell, she finds herself in an uneasy atmosphere, not helped by finding an ex-boyfriend working on the dig too. The excavation descends into tragedy when Russell's wife commits suicide, and his son, who has been implicated in his step-mother's death appears to try to commit suicide too. Laetitia is convinced that there is foul play, and along with lover-to-be William investigates.

It's an engaging enough read; heavily influenced by Agatha Christie, Mary Stewart, and Elizabeth Peters. The archaeological background is well written and thoroughly enjoyable, as is the Minoan Crete details. The mandatory lovestory is rather clumsily handled although the lovers are nice enough. The only area where it's really lacking is as a mystery story. What's going on is pretty obvious and there are some huge holes in the plotline. The other area where this novel falls down is in the huge amount of backstory scattered copiously throughout - I kept checking the jacket of the volume totally convinced that there must have been an earlier book in the series that I'd missed. This did get rather annoying.

It's not the most exciting or original read, and those earlier authors of "women in danger" stories Mary Stewart and M.M. Kaye did it so much better, but for a light throwaway read with an exotic location, it's an enjoyable option.


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