Thriller: Cabal of the Westford Knight, by David S. Brody

Cabal of The Westford Knight: Templars at the Newport Tower
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The daVinci Code crosses the pond to Westford, Massachusetts, following clues about the secret Jesus/Magdalene bloodline hidden in Scotland’s and the Sinclair family’s Roslyn Chapel. Cabal of the Westford Knight is based upon legends concerning the infamous Templar Knights, a band of which is supposed by some to have arrived in what is now New England, more than a hundred years before Columbus. Cameron Thorne is a small town lawyer who grew up in the region, and in the course of ordinary business, he stumbles into a diabolical conspiracy by parties unknown. The Knights are rumored to have left a priceless treasure, and Thorne quickly learns that there are those more than willing to kill for it. He determines to reach that treasure, whatever it may be, before the conspirators can.

Author Brody weaves existing artifacts and places into a historical fiction thriller that expands from local legend to archaeological fact to world wide religious conspiracy. Westford Knight is a labyrinthine tale, dependent upon countless twists, turns and incredibly lucky breaks. Amply supplemented with photos, it invites the reader to consider the physical evidence and draw his/her own conclusions. Character development is sacrificed to the necessities of a complex, galloping plot, though there is a budding romance between Thorne and a beautiful, brainy historian. Together, the couple track down artifacts and draw some pretty spectacular inferences, all while dodging bullets and jumping off bridges. Brody’s writing is competent but extremely literal, and appears to have been thoroughly researched. For readers interested in further exploration on this topic, he maintains a couple of interactive websites, referenced in acknowledgments.

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Archaeology News: Fifth Century Church Set to Open in Rome

How exciting, and great! Excerpt from an article at :

Click on link for more photos.

Fifth-century church in Roman Forum to reopen to public

Restoration of S. Maria Antiqua church nears completion

Fifth-century church in Roman Forum to reopen to public

A 12-year restoration programme at the fifth-century church of S. Maria Antiqua in the Roman Forum is almost complete.

Rome’s superintendent for archaeology Mariarosaria Barbera said that once the final works had been carried out on the floors, preparations would begin in January to cater for visits on a limited basis in the spring. Barbera said the church would then open to the public for at least three days a week, “allowing adequate breaks to ensure the microclimate.”

Located on the north-western slopes of the Palatine hill, the church is one of Rome’s earliest surviving Christian monuments. Its richly decorated walls contain 250-sqm of frescoes from the sixth to the late eighth century which have led it to become known as the “Mediaeval Sistine Chapel”.


Historical Fiction: The Caves of Perigord, by Martin Walker

The Caves of Perigord

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Major Phillip Manners has just buried his father, and his inheritance included a small piece of paleolithic wall art depicting a bull. He takes the painting to Lydia Dean, expert in the preclassical department of a London auction house, for valuation. Astounded by what she sees, she identifies the work as characteristic of the wall paintings found in the caves of the Dordogne, and warns Manners that it probably qualifies as a stolen artifact. Manners informs her that his father brought it home from France after WWII, when he was stationed there to assist the Resistance forces. Lydia, taking that as her jumping off point, stores the stone securely and agrees to research its provenance. The very next day, it’s stolen yet again. A reward is posted, and Manners convinces Lydia to travel to the Perigord region with him, in hopes of locating the cave in which the painting was originally made.

The Caves of Perigord has a three-fold plot. Author Walker, an NPR commentator, relates Lydia’s quest in the present time, and intersperses into her tale two back stories from this region, one from the Ice Age and the other from the second world war. In doing so, Walker show off his research, descriptive, and creative skills to good advantage, recreating the Ice Age and bringing to life humankind’s earliest visual artists and their milieu. The animals, customs, societal hierarchy, and painting techniques are all vividly portrayed, mainly through the experiences of Deer, a young artist in training. Taylor does an equally impressive job writing about the role of the Brits and Americans who trained and supplied the French Resistors in 1944, centering upon Manners’ father, the Capitaine. These chapters are truly harrowing; the region is a minefield, literally and figuratively, militarily and politically, and Walker evokes the brutality of the struggle much as Leon Uris did in his war novels. He knows how to tell a gripping story and make his readers care about his characters, empathizing with their joys and struggles.

If the book has flaws, they are minor, and lie in the absence of a map, and some extraneous detail that interrupted the action. Some photos or diagrams of the cave art wouldn’t have gone amiss either.

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Thriller: The Cold Calling, by Will Kingdom

The Cold Calling

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For DI Bobby Maiden, life after death is hell. Resuscitated after a hit and run, he’s haunted by dark, eerie dreams of being buried alive. Before the accident, he knew he was being fitted up by his supervisor, a crooked administrator who works hand in glove with the local hoods. When the supervisor visits him in the hospital, Bobby knows he’d better disappear before he’s forced to die another death.

The nurse who brought Bobby back to life is an alternative healer, and she hides him out with a friend, Marcus, who lives in the ruin of an ancient castle across the Welsh border. Marcus’s elderly housekeeper experienced, during childhood, a vision of the Virgin Mary at Black Knoll, the prehistoric burial mound above his home. Enter Cindy Mars-Lewis, a cross dressing entertainer who believes he has shamanic powers, and American journalist Grayle Underhill, looking for the sister who has disappeared somewhere among these ancient hills. When it appears that a serial killer is marauding, all hell breaks loose.

Will Kingdom is a pen name of Phil Rickman, the British novelist better known for his Merrilee Watkins series. There is no one writing today who is better at unrolling stories atmospheric with history and folklore, populated by magnetic characters, both good and bad, and topped with a credible dollop of the paranormal. Cold Calling has a multi-layered plot written tightly enough that the reader discovers the identity of the killer only when those in the story do. Green men, stone circles, and ley lines all play prominent roles, drawing the reader into the mystery.

I’ve said this in others of my Rickman reviews and it bears repeating: Phil Rickman is an author who deserves a wider audience in America. He’s outstanding. Check him out.

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Romantic Suspense: The Shadowy Horses, by Susanna Kearsley

The Shadowy Horses

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Tired of her job at the British Museum, archaeologist Verity Grey accepts a post in a small fishing village in Scotland. Peter Quinnell, legendary for his unusual theories, is searching for the campsite of a Roman legion that vanished without a trace around 117 AD. His evidence? The young grandson of his caretaker, known to have “second site”, routinely sees the ghost of a Roman sentinel parading about the grounds at night. Verity is charmed by Quinnell, and in spite of grave reservations, commits to helping him on the dig. Soon she begins having some eerie experiences of her own. During the course of the summer, Verity comes to know the big, handsome Scotsman David Fortune. As the dig progresses, she begins to fear that some malevolent, supernatural force may be preventing the dig from succeeding in its goals.

The best feature in this book is its atmospheric setting, which author Kearsley brings to life with evocative descriptions. The plot itself is simple, with a predictible ending. With respect to romance and suspense, both are present but minimal, and characters tend toward types (eccentric archaeologist, philandering smuggler, salt of the earth Scotsman).
Readers who enjoy the books of Mary Stewart or Nora Roberts are likely to enjoy this one. Those in search of something pithier must look elsewhere.

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Great Nonfiction: Putnam’s Revolutionary War Winter Encampment, by Daniel Cruson

Putnam's Revolutionary War Winter Encampment: The History and Archeology of Putnam Memorial State Park

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In 1887, a twelve-acre parcel of land once occupied by Revolutionary War soldiers was donated to Connecticut, which founded its first state park upon it. Planned as a memorial and not simply as a pleasure ground, it commemorates the sacrifices made by Israel Putnam’s command during their winter encampment. But relatively little research had been done and reported on the site until now: teacher/historian Daniel Cruson has published a book reviewing archaeological and documentary evidence, and reinterpreting both the site itself and the lives of the soldiers who built and inhabited this temporary village. From a myriad of details, Mr. Cruson has gleaned valuable information about food, daily life, special assignments, arms and uniforms, and discipline. What happened to soldiers who were found to waste ammunition, even if it was to supplement the inadequate army diet? Is the legend about the soldier who died from a hit on the head with a snowball true? How many men were executed for desertion, and where did that take place? What happened to the camp when winter ended and the army moved on? The author answers these and many other intriguing questions, and suggests avenues for further research. A valuable addition to Revolutionary War history and literature.

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Historical Fiction: Resurrection, by Tucker Malarkey


My rating: 3 of 5 stars

British army nurse Gemma Bastion is struggling to recover from the horrors of WWII when her archaeologist father dies in Cairo. She travels there for his memorial service, staying at the home of his closest friend. Very shortly, it becomes apparent that he must have been murdered, and Gemma determines to discover how and why. As she clears out his office at the archaeology museum, she comes to suspect that his work, centering upon ancient papyrus scrolls, lead directly to his death.

Author Malarkey does a creditable job of resurrecting the English colony in late 1940′s Cairo. She also resurrects the themes that drove The DaVinci Code, from that earlier perspective. There’s little new here, and the plot tends to drag in the middle. But Resurrection is an adequately presented novel about a young woman, her quest for truth, her recovery from trauma, and her growing desire to reconnect with humanity and love again. Conservative Christians will probably take offense, but this is a well written version of the historical data that has given rise to so much recent controversy.

Archaeology News: Satellite Survey of Ancient Egypt

copyright BBC

BBC News is reporting the discovery of thousands of  previously undiscovered historic sites in Egypt, including tombs, settlements, and 17 pyramids. Dr. Sarah Parcak from the University of Alabama headed a study that took infra-red satellite images, technology that can reveal objects measuring less than one meter on the earth’s surface. She is quoted as saying, “Indiana Jones is old school, we’ve moved on from Indy, sorry Harrison Ford.” Some of these findings have already been validated by test excavations.

The news article, which includes a brief video and additional photos, can be found here.

Archaeology News: More on the Dig at New Place (Shakespeare)

The  dig at the site of Shakespeare’s last home in Stratford Upon Avon is emerging from its winter hiatus, and is about to begin excavating in parts of the land that have never been previously touched.  Thus far, evidence has been uncovered that challenges the way the house and grounds have been interpreted. Perhaps the most exciting feature of this project is that members of the public are invited to observe and even participate in the work. “The Dig for Shakespeare” is open 7 days a week, until the project closes again in October. There is an admission charge, which includes entry to the Birthplace, Hall’s Croft, and Nash’s House, where there is an exhibit of some of the finds. The ticket is good for a year, enabling visitors to return as often as they like. Further information about this exciting undertaking can be found here.