Poisoned Pen Press, Scottsdale, Arizona
I’ve mentioned previously that one of life’s true delights for me is the discovery of a new author and his or her first novel that I find truly exciting. Mary Anna Evans and her Artifacts are that author and that first novel!
Faye Longchamp is the heroine of this atmospheric gothic mystery set in the panhandle of Florida and its tiny islands and islets of shifting sand. She is a shadowy figure in many ways—a young, attractive biracial woman who clings stubbornly to her heritage, both cultural and built, as she lives in a purposely run-down ancestral plantation mansion. She literally hides the existence of Joyeuse, the name given to the property in ante-bellum times, from the taxman, while she works as a supervisor on a university archaeological dig by day and a pothunter by night to save up enough money to meet property tax demands. Pothunting may be anathema to all of us who embrace the concepts of scientific excavation methods, provenience, site reports, etc., but Author Evans very skillfully and sympathetically explains Faye’s rationalizing—indeed, Faye’s need to carry on this illegal activity. The descendant of a remarkable slave named Cally, who was freed before the Civil War, Faye lives in a shadow world between races, classes and the law-abiding and the lawless. Fay is, in a Faulknerian sense, one of “the unvanquished.”
In the midst of her legitimate excavating and her trafficking in illicit artifacts, Faye is plunged into the forty-year-old mystery of the disappearance of a young local debutante when skeletal remains are discovered on the dig. Almost within hours two student excavators are assassinated, followed by the discovery of three more decades-old bodies. Seagreen Island has become more than just an archaeology site—it has become a veritable killing field. Her life, plus that of her mysterious friend Joe Wolf Mantooth, is in danger and it eventually becomes evident to Faye that the killer of four decades past is alive and well and more than willing to continue killing.
This novel is wonderfully multi-layered, spinning a wonderful murder mystery while at the same time lovingly describing a place (the west Florida panhandle) that retains much of its unique history and culture. With seamless ease, Ms. Evans tells the back story of how Faye’s great-great-grandmother Cally, a freed slave, could become the owner of Joyeuse, and hand it down to her present day descendant.
This is simply a wonderful book and I look forward to the continuing of Faye’s adventures in next summer’s publication of Relics.