Title: Olmec Obituary
Author: L.J.M. Owen
Published: August 2016
Synopsis: Archaeologist Dr Elizabeth Pimms thoroughly enjoys digging up old skeletons.
But when she is called home from Egypt after a family loss, she has to sacrifice her passions for the sake of those around her.
Attempting to settle into her new role as a librarian, while also missing her boyfriend, Elizabeth is distracted from her woes by a new mystery: a royal Olmec cemetery, discovered deep in the Mexican jungle, with a 3000-year-old ballplayer who just might be a woman.
She soon discovers there are more skeletons to deal with than those covered in dirt and dust.
Suitable for readers young and old, Olmec Obituary is the first novel in a delightful cosy crime series: Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth. Really cold cases.
Elizabeth is having the time of her life in Egypt, delving into tombs, uncovering new secrets, and searching for the women of antiquity amongst all the evidence of male rulers. When family tragedy strikes, Elizabeth is summoned home, and must give up her archaeology career for the stability of one in the National Library of Australia (referred to as the Mahony Griffin Library in the book) and support her family. In pain, and curious as to a fellow librarian’s behaviour towards her, Elizabeth finds herself volunteering to help uncover the secrets of a three-thousand-year-old Olmec cemetery. But all is not what it seems, and there are more than just bone-related secrets to uncover. What is the head of the project, Dr. Carl Schmidt up to, and why? Who is he covering for? And why does Mai hate her so much? Back at home, Elizabeth is grappling with younger siblings and grandparents who need her to work to support them, but also need her to help around the house and be there for them. Between work, and her family, Elizabeth hopes she can solve the mystery of the Olmec women, and prove to the university and library what has really been happening – and perhaps even why.
The first in what I am sure will be a wonderful new cosy crime series with cases so cold, nobody is left to speak for the dead but archaeologists and historians, Olmec Obituary brings a new sleuth to life, who deals in cases so cold, finding a witness would require a time machine. However, without one, Elizabeth settles on solving the crimes and mysteries of the past from the future, using her skills as an archaeologist, and with the help of Alice, a PhD candidate, and friends who study ancient languages, will make discoveries that will alter perceptions and cause Elizabeth to look to her family, and uncover more than just the skeletons at work. Olmec Obituary introduces us to a cast of characters who are unique and diverse, to a family with Welsh, Chinese and French heritage, with a female led cast of characters, with female-centric narratives driving the story, both the story of the Olmec burial and Elizabeth’s story, where she comes up against sexism in her voluntary position, and an unexpected altercation with a library employee she has never met – Mai – and who gives no indication as to why she has decided to hate Elizabeth – something I am intrigued by and look forward to finding out. I was just as surprised as Elizabeth at the instant hatred – it added another mystery to the story as I wondered what the hatred was about. It added a layer to the story and characters that contributed to the mystery.
Not only is the story-line compelling and interesting, Olmec Obituary’s diverse cast of characters, and female-led story brings a new voice to Australian literature in the last few years, offering up something meaty and intriguing for new readers who want their women doing new and interesting things, and seeking diversity. Combined, these work, and Elizabeth’s love life is present too, but already established and not at the forefront of the plot, which makes for exciting reading. As stubborn as she is, Elizabeth still has weaknesses and flaws that she tries to keep guarded and hidden, but it is these flaws that make her an intriguing character to read about.
The genre of cosy mystery, where the murder happens off page, without gratuitous violence and sex is becoming a favourite – and in this genre, all my current favourite authors are Australian women writers, with one being a British male – Vaseem Khan, author of the Baby Ganesh Investigation series. My other favourites which are by Australian women are:
LJM Owen, Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth
Sulari Gentill, The Rowland Sinclair Mysteries – and the series that got me into this genre.
Kerry Greenwood, Phryne Fisher Mysteries
Janine Beacham – Rose Raventhorpe Investigates.
So, in my vast collection, Elizabeth is in good company, and she is an intriguing character, much like Rowly, Rose, Phryne and Inspector Chopra and his baby elephant. Where Rowly has his artist friends, and Phryne has trusty maid Dot, and Rose, the Silvercrest Butlers, and Chopra has a baby elephant, Elizabeth’s companions are her cats, named for Egyptian gods and goddesses, who are there when Elizabeth is working at home, always watching, and always faithful.
This is a great start to what I am sure will be an engaging and educational series. Elizabeth looks to be a character whose secrets will be revealed across the series and watching this happen will be intriguing. I liked the way Olmec Obituary ended with a touch of a mystery to come and be resolved, whilst wrapping up key aspects of the main plot and revealing characters for who they truly are not the facade that they put on for everyone else.
A great read, and I can’t wait to get stuck into book two.