Crime Fiction Alphabet: A is for Archaeology

It seemed like an omen that the week I was deliberating over whether or not to participate in the crime fiction alphabet meme this year I would be reading two crime fiction books which both happen to feature an archaeologist. And so it was decided, I will participate in the meme (at least semi-regularly though I don’t promise to complete all letters) and I will write my posts about the themes, sub-genres and plot elements that crop up regularly in the crime fiction I love.

I have a sneaking suspicion that archaeologists are over-represented in crime fiction, given that I don’t run across them in real life nearly as often as I do in crime fiction. Why does the profession lends itself to inclusion in this genre far more than say laundrette manager or dentist? I guess it is because the profession itself already has an air of mystery and romance about it. What child hasn’t fantasized about getting dirty and digging things up for a living? Or is that just me?

These are the archaeologists I can remember meeting in my crime fiction reading, please leave a comment with the names of any more you know of that I might need to investigate.

The first archaeologist I came across in crime fiction was Amelia Peabody, who since 1975 has starred in 19 adventures set in Egypt/Africa/the Middle East. The books by Elizabeth Peters are a mixture of historical fiction, amateur sleuthing and the discovering of ancient Egyptian artifacts. Crocodile on the Sandbank introduces us to the force of nature that is Amelia Peabody, (recently orphaned and now independently wealthy) and her soon-to-be husband. The series is still going strong with the release last year of A River in the Sky which places Amelia and friends in Palestine just prior to the outbreak of the first world war.

Jessica Mann, who studied archaeology herself and is married to an archaeologist, published a series of six books featuring Tamara Hoyland who was an agent of the British secret service and an archaeologist . The first of these, published in 1981 is Funeral Sites and though I think I’ve read them all (in the days before my wonderful spreadsheet so I can’t know for sure) the only one I can remember much about is the fourth book, Death Beyond the Nile, in which Tamara joins an archaeological tour of Egypt in order to thwart the dastardly schemes of a woman who is threatening British security. I remember the book being full of fun characters and lots of dastardly plotting. A teensey bit of googling tells me that Mann also has a series of three earlier books starting with The Only Security (1971) which feature an archaeology professor as the heroine.

While Lyn Hamilton‘s Canadian heroine Lara McClintock is not herself an archaeologist she is an antiques dealer who specialises in archaeological objects and the books, starting with 1997′s The Xibalba Murders take us on adventures all over the globe looking at a fascinating range of ancient cultures including the Mayans, the Celts, the Etruscans and even the people of Easter Island.

Beverly Connor wrote about the first forensic archaeologist I can remember reading about, in 1996′s A Rumor of Bones. Her heroine is Lindsay Chamberlain who in this first novel discovers that the bones police believe belong to a missing girl they have been searching for belong to a different child who appears to have been sexually abused. Eventually they work out there are bones of more than one missing child on the site which is when things take an extremely grim turn.

I can attest to the fact that Erin Hart‘s 2003 novel Haunted Ground, about a well preserved head discovered in the peat bogs of Ireland, is a book you don’t forget quickly. The hero of the novel, Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire, works with an American anthropologist to solve both a historic crime and a present-day one. This is a very dark and atmospheric book set in a closed community.

And of course last year I became besotted by the Elly Griffiths novels featuring Dr Ruth Galloway who is a forensic archaeologist at the fictional North Norfolk University. Both The Crossing Places and The Janus Stone were great books, full of wonderful characters, lots of atmosphere and curious mysteries. The third book in the series, The House at Seas End, was one of the two books that prompted this post (I finished it yesterday, review to come later this week).

The other book I am reading (via audio) this week is Kate EllisA Perfect Death in which the protagonist, who is a policeman, has a best friend who is an archaeologist and whose investigations seem to always involve the subject. In this book there is a grizzly murder on the site of an ancient one and records of the site’s excavation have vanished! I stumbled across this book on special at audible but now realise the whole series (this is book 13 of what is soon to be 16) features things archaeological so there’s a backlog for me to trawl.

Are there more archaeological mysteries you’ve read? Why do you think this profession is so highly represented in crime fiction? Do you know any real-life archaeologists who lead such exciting, dangerous lives?

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise is hosting the crime fiction alphabet meme which requires the posting of an article relating to the letter of the week.

This is the second round of the meme which was first run from late 2009 to early 2010. My contributions that time were discussions of books with one word titles.

12 thoughts on “Crime Fiction Alphabet: A is for Archaeology

  1. I do love the Amelia Peabody mysteries. It has been a while since I read one though. I need to check where I was up to.

  2. Bernadette – What a creative and interesting way to approach this meme! I think it’s fantastic. You’ve mentioned some interesting archaeologists, too (I like Ruth Galloway). There’s also Kathleen and W. Michael Gears’ William “Dusty” Stewart. And Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia is all about an archaeology dig and a murder that happens among the dig team…

  3. Not read but other authors in my database with archaeologist characters are: Andy McDermott, David Gibbins, Jason Foss, Barbara Cleverly (L Talbot series), Glyn Daniel and Tom Egeland.

  4. Wow! A veritable treasure trove of archaeology-themed books. Must check these out. I have only read the first two of the terrific Ruth Galloway books. There is also “Crow Stone,” by Jenni Mills. I don’t think she’s written more but don’t know. I haven’t yet read that, as I’ve loaned it to friends and can’t get it back. Here’s more for the TBR list.

  5. It’s been a while since my last Amelia Peabody read – I used to just devour them, although I like Peters’ Jacqueline Kirby more as a series. I’ve read a handful of Kate Ellis’ series. I have a few Audible credits hanging around so maybe I’ll read a newer one in audio.

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  7. Archaeology is so closely connected to detective fiction: the puzzle of what has been uncovered, the peeling back of layers, the re constructing of the story – it’s a natural “fit”.

    By the way I must thank you for introducing me to Ruth Galloway.

  8. thanks for all the suggestions people, more names for my wishlist. If I can’t be an archaeologist in the real world this is the next best thing :)

    @Sue, you’re welcome for the introduction – I figure the world is a slightly better place with more Ruth Galloway fans

  9. Excellent post as I am also fascinated by archaeology and forensics.

    The only real archaeologist who springs to my mind is our queen. I think her life may be called adventurous compared to mine, but hardly because of all the dry bones she comes across.

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