Egyptian Enigma by L.J.M. Owen

egyptian enigma.jpgTitle: Egyptian Enigma

Author: L.J.M Owen

Genre: Crime/Mystery/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Echo Publishing

Published: March 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 370

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Dr Elizabeth Pimms, enthusiastic archaeologist and reluctant librarian, has returned to Egypt. Among the treasures of the Cairo museum she spies cryptic symbols in the corner of an ancient papyrus. Decoding them leads Elizabeth and her newly formed gang of sleuths to a tomb of mummies whose identities must be uncovered.

What is the connection between the mummies and Twosret, female Pharaoh and last ruler of Egypt’s nineteenth dynasty? How did their bodies end up scattered across the globe? And is the investigation related to the attacks on Elizabeth’s family and friends back in Australia? Between grave robbers, cannibals, sexist historians and jealous Pharaohs, can Dr Pimms solve her latest archaeological mystery?

~*~

The third in the fabulous Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth Series sees Elizabeth on a sojourn with New York philologist, Henry, to Egypt. Here, she gets to visit the ancient sites she has read about, and write about her travels, whilst exploring the history that inspired her love of archaeology and ancient history. When her journal is stolen, and the holiday ends, Elizabeth returns to work at the library, and university. Her tutoring job is due to start, and she must contend with two students who are disruptive and talk over people, and disregard what she has to say, she has to edit the Olmec and Maya papers with Alice, and a new investigation into The Golden Tomb of Egypt begins, involving 3D printouts of skeletons to help identify the victims and establish what happened long ago during the New Kingdom and the erasure of female Pharaohs, such as Tausret, from the records, as people had tried to erase Akhenaten and his family in earlier generations. At the same time, she is still attending family therapy sessions with Matty and Sam, and their relationship is much nicer in this book, and Elizabeth is baffled by an attack on her beloved Taid, and the distanced Mai, who seems to have cut herself off from many around her as she struggles with the revelations of Mayan Mendacity.

AWW-2018-badge-roseThe ancient and modern mysteries that Elizabeth faces are diverse and unique – but will she solve all of them, and find out who stole her journal? And what has her work colleague, Judy, been hiding about William Pimms death for the past few years? Elizabeth seeks answers to these questions as well, balancing work and family life as she gathers together a snoop of sleuths -herself, Alice, Nathan, Rhoz and Llew, working in Taid’s library during weekends.

As each mystery – the murder, Taid’s attack, Judy’s behaviour and disappearance, and the antagonistic students in her class progresses and thickens, Elizabeth finds herself caught up in her work – something quite admirable about her, that she has such hyper focus that it takes a sit down with her beloved Taid to work things out and pull her out of it at times – he’s one of my favourite characters, but many of the characters are pretty cool.

I absolutely adored this book, as it reminded me of how much I love Egyptian history, and it explored the period of the New Kingdom – 18th-20th Dynasty – that I am most familiar with, so reading about Akhenaten and Tutankhamen, and the Ramesses Pharaohs was thrilling. Nathan is also a favourite – he’s the kind of friend everyone needs, so caring, and delightful, but still, as with all the characters, with his own flaws that make him the person he is.

Mai grew on me in this book – and I loved how the family cared for her so much when they found out she was sick, and brought her into their lives to help her, and give her the family she should have had growing up. I love the way the family just comes together in a tragedy and has an understanding of each other that ensures nobody is ever forgotten.

There were of course two unsolved mysteries – one that appeared at the end of the novel, and that readers will need to wait for the next book, advertised in the back as Mongolian Mayhem. I can’t wait to see what other Intermillennial crimes Elizabeth and her snoop of sleuths get to solve next.

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Mayan Mendacity by LJM Owen

Mayan-Mendacity_low-res.jpgTitle: Mayan Mendacity

Author: L.J.M Owen

Genre: Crime/Historical Crime

Publisher: Echo Publishing

Published: November 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 357

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Dr Elizabeth Pimms has a new puzzle.

What is the story behind the tiny skeletons discovered on a Guatemalan island? And how do they relate to an ancient Mayan queen?

The bones, along with other remains, are a gift for Elizabeth. But soon the giver reveals his true nature. An enraged colleague then questions Elizabeth’s family history. Elizabeth seeks DNA evidence to put all skeletons to rest.

A pregnant enemy, a crystal skull, a New York foodie, and an intruder in Elizabeth’s phrenic library variously aid or interrupt Elizabeth’s attempts to solve mysteries both ancient and personal.

With archaeological intrigue, forensic insight and cosy comfort, Mayan Mendacity takes readers back into the world of Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth. Really cold cases.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseAs Elizabeth’s new life as librarian and volunteer archaeological detective continues, a new mystery begins to unfold at the university as she bumps into Luke, and the girl he’s agreed to marry after having an affair with her. His gift to Elizabeth upon his return, is the betrayal and the delivery of remains from a Mayan site, that need sorting, cataloguing and investigating. Corralled into doing this, and writing a report on it, Elizabeth must find a way to spend time with her family, especially brother Matty, and attend the counselling sessions with her siblings, Matty and Sam, their sister. The family dynamic is complicated by work colleague Mai, who has been hostile without explanation to Elizabeth since Olmec Obituary, and the two are equally stubborn, refusing to talk, despite Nathan’s attempts, and Elizabeth’s resolve to remain calm throughout as she grapples with interference with the Mayan remains, and family expectations that she feels guilty about missing, though her loving grandparents are supportive.

The pregnancy that has trapped her ex, Luke, into a relationship with Kaitlyn, is yet another obstacle to overcome, and Kaitlyn’s determination to make Elizabeth look bad in her Mayan reports threaten to thwart all the hard work Elizabeth and Matty have done for the reconstruction. Between the challenges presented by Kaitlyn and Mai, will Elizabeth solve the case of Lady Six Sky?

Interspersed throughout the novel, the ancient case of Lady Six Sky and the remains is told in between chapters, slowly revealing what happened to the reader as Elizabeth investigates what happened based on the bones and archaeological remains.

The second in the Dr Elizabeth Pimms series, Mayan Mendacity, continues some of the questions left unanswered at the end of book one, and brings together the threads of relationships that started there. Elizabeth’s analytical, logical mind is constantly at work again, as she tries to put together pieces of various puzzles without muddling them up – and it is enjoyable to read about her doing this, and working in a field she loves, whilst being surrounded by the books and archaeology she so loves. As it is the second in the series, it moves along with a good pace and has a decent gap between the final events of the first book and the events of this one, ensuring the flow of characters works effectively and that will hopefully flow nicely into the subsequent books, the third of which, Egyptian Enigma has just been released and will be reviewed on this blog soon.

I think of all the characters, Matty, Taid, Elizabeth and Nai Nai are my favourites. Matty, for his resilience in the face of a disability that has affected him for most of his life, and his quest to overcome the obstacles thrown into his face to become a chef. Elizabeth, for her love of books, cats and history, and desire to uncover the truth behind the bones. Taid and Nai Nai are awesome grandparents, and all round fabulous characters. The diversity of the characters adds to what I enjoyed about this book, and the various ways in which they interact. I did feel poor Elizabeth was pressured by her sister Sam into things at times, and Sam often demanded, but I’m hoping her character grows over the course of the series.

Another great read from LJM Owen.

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The Opal Dragonfly by Julian Leatherdale

the opal dragonfly.jpgTitle: The Opal Dragonfly

Author: Julian Leatherdale

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 21st Febraury 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 592

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A daughter sacrifices her reputation, two men bid for the love of a woman, freedom is found in the heart of a dust storm, a father’s legacy reveals past crimes.

Inspired by the glamour and beauty of Elizabeth Bay House and the other grand villas of Woolloomooloo Hill in the 1850s, The Opal Dragonfly tells the story of Isobel Macleod, a young woman born into wealth and privilege and yet destined to be cast out of both.

Miss Isobel Clara Macleod, youngest of the seven children of Major Sir Angus Hutton Macleod, Surveyor-General of the colony of New South Wales, had the singular misfortune to know that at seven o’clock that morning her father was going to die.

September, 1851. Sydney, city of secrets and gossip. Seventeen-year-old Isobel Macleod is determined to save her father because she loves him. But when she dares to trespass in a forbidden male world, she will be plunged into social disgrace. A wave of ill fortune threatens to swallow up her family and their stately home, Rosemount Hall, ‘the finest house in the colony’ on the foreshores of Sydney Harbour.

Is Isobel to blame for her family’s fate or does the cause lie further in the past? When Isobel was four, Major Macleod returned from an expedition with two ‘souvenirs’: an Aboriginal girl who became her friend and two opals fashioned into a dragonfly brooch for her mother.

When Isobel inherits this ‘unlucky’ heirloom, she wonders if the terrible dreams it summons are a curse or a gift. Now Isobel’s hopes for her future depend on a charming bohemian who encourages her hidden passion to become an artist. Will she now be permanently exiled from her family home? Or will she be transformed into a new self, like a magnificent dragonfly emerging into the sunlight?

A daughter sacrifices her reputation, two men bid for the love of a woman, freedom is found in the heart of a dust storm, a father’s legacy reveals past crimes.

Inspired by Elizabeth Bay House and the other grand villas of Sydney’s Woolloomooloo Hill,¬†The Opal Dragonfly¬†tells the bittersweet story of an ambitious family’s fall from grace and a brave young woman’s struggle to find her true self.

~*~

Isobel Macleod is the youngest of seven, and the favourite of her father, much to the chagrin of sisters, Anna and Grace, though she is adored by her oldest sister, Alice, and brothers, William, Joseph and Richard, who do their best to smooth things over with her, Grace and Anna – until a series of events and disasters befalls the family over a matter of months and years. Major Angus Hutton Macleod, their father, is the Surveyor-General of the Colony of NSW during the decades prior to Federation, and is often off exploring the country, and taking notes and sketches for the Colony. When home, he encourages Isobel’s artistic talents, allowing her into his office to sketch his finds. When she is four, he returns from one such expedition with ‘souvenirs’ – a brooch of opals, made into a dragonfly for Isobel’s mother, Winnie, and a young Aboriginal girl, Ballandella – a playmate for Isobel and who would become her friend.

In these happy early years, it feels to the reader as if nothing will go wrong, but the opal dragonfly’s presence is presented as a dark omen, a harbinger of doom and bad luck for the family – which presents a mystery throughout for Isobel, as she struggles to come to terms with the tragedies, her fall from grace and the hatred of her sisters, Grace and Anna, in the absence of her mother, and sister Alice. These are complex and diverse characters, whose actions, reactions and motivations are what keeps the story and the family dynamics interesting, especially when it comes to the opal dragonfly, coveted by Grace, but left to Isobel by their mother.

But the opals bring several rounds of bad luck: an exiled brother, death in the family, and disgrace for Isobel as she bravely prevents her father from participating in a duel, and unwittingly setting forth her own fall from grace, and tragedies that befall each of her siblings, and that threaten to engulf the family and destroy them. Exiled to her aunt’s home, Isobel finds solace in creating fancy work and art for charity, until a charming, bohemian artist comes into her life as her art teacher, and eventually her lover and husband, and becomes the man that Isobel must hope will save her and her family from the curse.

With many hidden secrets in the field diaries left to her by her father, Isobel must endure harsh times as she comes to terms with the destruction of her family, but a chance to rebuild her own life, and find her true self, without the trappings of society and those who have turned their backs on her. Through it all, Isobel shows great bravery in her quest to find out what happened to Ballandella, and the secrets that drove her family to destruction. It is these secrets that Isobel has been entrusted with that form the darker side to the novel, and the tragedies that Isobel endures before coming out the other side scathed, and alone, but alive and able to recreate a new life for herself.

Julian Leatherdale’s inspiration came from the old historic houses in Sydney, and the colonial history of New South Wales, and the way different groups interacted, and explores how individuals treated people based on their experiences – no singular mindset is the given for all the characters in the book. Isobel, who has lived a life of privilege, shares her young life with Ballandella and then strives to be charitable, whilst her suitor, Charles Probius, looks to help people down on their luck, regardless of who they are, based on his past experiences.

Throughout the novel, each character seems to present a facade, a mask, of who they want those in their lives to see, rather than the person they really are, and so, the burying of the truth is a theme that runs through the novel, culminating in Isobel carrying so many secrets, the burden almost crushes her.

The history is woven throughout, with Rosemount based on Elizabeth House, and Isobel’s father based on a real Surveyor-General from the 1830S and 1840S, as well as other figures, who played a role in the early colony and whose lives inspired the characters in The Opal Dragonfly. It is at times touching, and other times harrowing and despairing, it encapsulates the desires to uncover secrets, and the flaws and fragility of human life and society, against a backdrop of colonialism and the assumptions of class, race and gender that came with that society, to create a world where the colliding forces of what is expected, what is desired, and what is right ensure a complex novel where relationships and people are not always what they seem. The reality of people taking advantage of others is clear throughout this novel, and it is a reality that will never fade,¬† nor will the complexity of relationships that Leatherdale explores with depth, shock and great emotion, so that there are some things that are unexpected, but work exquisitely to tell Isobel’s story.

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Babylon Berlin by Volker Kutscher

babylon berlin.jpgTitle: Babylon Berlin

Author: Volker Kutscher, translated by Niall Seller

Genre: Crime/Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 24th January 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 528

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A GEREON RATH MYSTERY

‘Political maelstrom, a populist right on the march — sound familiar? . . . It’s fabulous debauchery and naughtiness, a political maelstrom and a ticking timebomb.’¬†The Guardian

 

Set in pre-Nazi Germany, Babylon Berlin is the first book in the bestselling German crime series. Seasons one and two on Netflix Australia now.
Berlin, 1929: When a car is hauled out of the Landwehr Canal with a mutilated corpse inside, Detective Inspector Gereon Rath claims the case. Soon his inquiries drag him ever deeper into the morass of Weimar Berlin’s ‘Roaring Twenties’ underworld of cocaine, prostitution, gunrunning and shady politics.

A fascinating, brilliant and impeccably detailed crime series set in the Weimar Republic between the world wars with a backdrop of the rise of Nazism.

Now a major international television series

‘Unrelenting in tension until an explosive climax; as well as delivering the thrills Kutscher captures perfectly in dark tones the menacing atmosphere and lurking threats of a unique — and pivotal — time and place in history.’
Craig Russell, author of the Jan Fabel series

‘Twenties Germany in all its seedy splendour: impressive.’
Sarah Ward, author of In Bitter Chill

‘Gripping, skilfully plotted and rich in historical detail.’
Mrs Peabody Investigates

‘Evocative thriller set in Berlin’s seedy underworld during
the Roaring Twenties.’
Mail on Sunday 

~*~

In the months and years before Hitler’s eventual rise to power, and in the months before the Great Depression hits, Detective Inspector Gereon Rath investigates murders and other unsavoury crimes that plague the city of Berlin. It is May when a car is dragged from the Landwehr Canal, complete with mutilated corpse, just one in a string of murders and incidents that are connected and that form the case that Gereon Rath takes on, and digs deeper into, uncovering secrets, and villains he never thought he would. In this world, people are not as they seem, they are secretive, only showing what the world wants them to see. Gereon is like this too, hiding an addiction and a troubled mind and worries. The mystery thickens with each passing chapter and day – each day is encapsulated in a chapter, so it is a rather long book, and it does take a little while to solve the mystery. As things become more complicated, the flawed anti-hero, Rath, starts to become caught up in the very underworld he is investigating, with characters just as morally flawed as he comes across, though perhaps he gets points for trying to question the flawed morals he faces, but not always. It takes a long time for Rath to solve the mystery, which feels a little drawn out at times but then moves along at a decent pace at other times – the lulls seem to show relationships that feel like they fizzle out and disappear, with not much made of them beyond that.

Overall, the plot is intriguing, though a bit long-winded, and could have been edited down to gear up the pacing, the delays that Rath faced did allow for some character development, amidst a growing unrest in Germany, with the SA and Nazis slowly rising and causing trouble, mixed in with a fear of Russians and Communism, presenting a backdrop that doesn’t overshadow the main plot, whilst still setting the scene for Rath and the actions of those around him. Gereon’s flaws are potentially what made him the most interesting character out of a cast of many – some of which only had short roles, maybe a few chapters or a few pages, and then disappeared, and the hinted at romance seemed to fizzle out. However, I will give this the benefit of the doubt as it is the beginning of a series. and it is possible these threads will be picked up in subsequent books.

One thing that could have moved the plot along was less travelling time and time spent on travelling scenes – a few quick transitions here and there would have worked just as well as the intricate descriptions and details. When reading this book, I was much more interested in the case being investigated – I did want to know about the private lives of the characters but felt some of this came out a little too much for the first book in a series – spacing it out makes it more exciting for the reader to discover. Another was the mention of green lights and electric hair dryers – uncommon for the setting, with explanations that felt misunderstood by those questioning the lines about them – though perhaps they work in the sense that the modern world is coming into being and slowly, new developments are taking place, and that is why only a few people know about them.

Though this is a long book, if you enjoy crime fiction and historical fiction, I would still recommend this. But take your time, as there are many details to try and remember, as it does get quite busy at times.

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Book Bingo Four: A book more than 500 pages, a book with themes of culture, and a book with a mystery.

 

 

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn my fourth book bingo, I have three books to include and link back to. At this stage, I have almost completed the fifth column on the square, with the final square needing a foreign translated book – yet to be decided. The others are all a little bit spaced out randomly at this stage, but for the most part, shouldn’t be too hard to fill. Whilst I was aiming to fill all of the squares with Australian women authors, with the exception of the translated novel and a novel by an Australian man, I have decided to fill them with what fits with any book as I read them.

Miss Lily 1So, for this week, I have three to report on. There is one that I have known will fit since signing up to this challenge, so let’s start there – A book with more than 500 pages. There are a few that fit into this category, but I chose Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French for this square. Set during the turbulent years of the First World War, Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies is the story of Sophie Higgs, an Australian from a wealthy family, learning ways of engaging men and the upper class of pre-war British society, a society that will come to change in the years of war that will soon plague Europe and the world. As with many of Jackie’s books, it tells the lesser known history, the stories of women – in all walks of life –¬† whose stories have been overlooked when recording history. It is a touching and emotional story full of ups and downs and gut punches that you don’t see coming, yet they work with the story, and the theme of the untold of casualties of war.

sealwomanAt the end of the second, is a book with themes of culture – The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson. The Sealwoman’s Gift tells the story of Icelanders taken into slavery by Barbary pirates in 1627, ripped away from what they know and transplanted – as all slaves were – into an alien culture where they are forced to adapt and assimilate. √Āsta, the main character, struggles with her old identity and her new one, and the forced separation of her family. From Iceland to Algiers and back to Iceland, the differing cultures are referred to, and the uniting feature of story-telling of cultures shines through.

OLMEC_B_SMLFinally, my third square for this week is the fifteenth square, a book with a mystery. For this one, I read Olmec Obituary by L.J.M. Owen, the first in the Dr Elizabeth Pimms series. It has a mystery – an ancient mystery. It’s cases so cold, only a trained archaeologist-cum-librarian can solve them. It is an excellent book with mysterious colleagues who show nothing but hatred, family secrets and ancient mysteries, where people want to cover up the truth. It is a great start to the series, and though the ending leaves a few unanswered questions, I am hoping these will be picked up throughout the series. The main character is well established, and it is a decent read with a good pace that keeps things interesting, going back and forth to build the mystery of the past and finally reveal what happened.

As I go through this book bingo, I am marking the squares off that are easily completed first or that are fairly broad and open, and leaving the more challenging ones for now, until I come across something that fits them.

book bingo 2018.jpg

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The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

the wicked cometh.jpgTitle: The Wicked Cometh

Author: Laura Carlin

Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton, Hachette Australia

Published: 13th February, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 343

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Even in the darkest of times, you cannot bury the truth . . . A debut historical novel that will appeal to fans of Sarah Waters and THE ESSEX SERPENT.

THE WICKED COMETH¬†will take readers on a heart-racing journey through backstreets swathed with fog to richly curtained, brightly lit country houses; from the libraries and colleges of gentlemen, to sawdust-strewn gin palaces where ne’er-do-wells drink and scheme, all told through the eyes of a heroine with nothing to lose.¬†

The year is 1831.

Down murky alleyways and in filthy hovels, acts of unspeakable wickedness take place and vulnerable people begin to disappear from the streets. Out of these shadows comes Hester White, a young woman who is desperate to escape the slums by any means possible.

When Hester is thrust into the world of the aristocratic Brock family, she leaps at the chance to improve her station in life under the tutelage of the mysterious Rebekah Brock. But both she and Rebekah are lured into the most sinister of investigations as whispers from Hester’s old life return to poison the present. Something is lurking in the black heart of their city, and it is more depraved than either of them could ever imagine . . .

~*~

Every city has its secrets, and so do the people who live in them. Hester White is run over by the cart of an aristocrat and injures her ankle. The gentleman, Calder Brock, insists on taking her back to his family home to heal, and she is soon turned into a project, for Calder’s mysterious sister Rebekah, whose indifference is off-putting, but the whispers about missing maids and girls are more concerning. Hester’s life in hovels and alleyways has changed now that she is in the Brock home, but the dangers that the maids and servants whisper about girls who have disappeared without a trace, and Hester knows she must find out what has happened, or potentially meet the same fate the others did. Initially afraid of Rebekah, Hester runs to save her life, only to discover the dark and dangerous truth about people she thought she could trust.

In her life, Hester, the narrator, has seen two Londons: the rich, opulent one of the Brocks, and the slums she lived in, the parsonage she grew up in. Through Hester’s eyes we see how her experiences being poor and rich affect her, and her ability to move between the two worlds is effective, especially as the novel is told in first person. When Hester is talking about Rebekah, there are hints that it is more than respect and friendship, but I felt that this grew and developed over the novel and complemented the mystery nicely. Hester’s father regaled her with stories about his travels. building up an ideal London in her young mind. Orphaned at eleven, Hester is living with an alcoholic Uncle Jacob, and her Aunt Meg, who encourages her to leave to save herself from the rage of Jacob.

When Calder takes her in to prove even those from the gutter can be educated, much like Henry Higgins tries to prove with Eliza in Pygmalion, Hester assumes a persona of ignorance, though she has been taught to read and write by her father. The mystery slowly unfolds, and towards the middle of the story, it starts to move faster than the beginning as Rebekah and Hester undertake their own investigations and try to stop the dark disappearances. The slow beginning acts as a deceptive set-up, lulling the reader into a false sense of security before slowly chipping away at this feeling through maid’s whispers and Hester’s doubts as she tells the story. This is used effectively to begin the mystery, which soon becomes the main story, and the relationships develop as the mystery goes on. I quite enjoyed the mystery, though it was quite dark, and disturbing, but highlighted the depravity that exists in society, and the lengths that people will go to in order to hide this depravity and present a respectable front to society.

Hester’s narration allows the reader to see it all through her eyes, and experience her confusion, her guilt and the feelings she is unsure about that bubble to the surface when she is around Rebekah and thinking about her. It has elements of friendship and romance, and finding one’s own identity, and the development of this evolves with the mystery. It was nice to see a relationship develop over time and not be instantaneous, and get equal attention to a rather dark and intriguing mystery that took the characters through the shadows of London.

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Olmec Obituary by L.J.M. Owen

OLMEC_B_SML.jpegTitle: Olmec Obituary

Author: L.J.M. Owen

Genre: Crime/Mystery

Publisher: Echo

Published: August 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 342

Price: $19.99

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.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseElizabeth 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.

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