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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

Bright Hair About the Bone by Barbara Cleverly

February 1, 2009

Bantam Dell: New York
2008 (pb)

In this, the second Laetitia Talbot Mystery, author Barbara Cleverly maintains the very high standards she set in the initial volume, The Tomb of Zeus. Bright Hair About the Bone is, in a sense, a prequel, taking place in 1927 –a year before her adventures on Crete. I reviewed that first volume and praised it highly, noting that fans of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series ought to be delighted with this new heroine; I did note, however, that the sly humor to be found in the Peabody series seemed to be lacking in the first Letty Talbot outing. That deficiency seems to have been remedied as this novel opens with a comically outlandish plot that Letty hatches to ensure her inclusion in an archaeological dig in Burgundy, France.

Her desire to join the dig goes well beyond her interest in archaeology, however. Her godfather, Daniel Thorndon, had been murdered, supposedly by a street robber in Fontigny, Burgundy. He had been working on the archaeological dig underway at the local abbey and shortly before his untimely death he had sent a coded message to Letty, indicating mysterious doings in Fontigny and his desire for her to join him in looking into the mystery.

Thus the stage is set for a truly enjoyable adventure that seems to include everything a reader could possibly want in a period-piece mystery: a dark and forbidding ruined abbey; an equally dark and forbidding and brooding yet incredibly sexy French nobleman, who lives in a secluded manor house with his slightly (or perhaps mostly) dotty mother; another brutal murder whose victim is partially buried in the abbey dig site; ancient Celtic artifacts that link pre-Roman goddess worshippers to the cult of the Virgin Mary and to Mary Magdalene; and a contemporary political plot that incorporates the rise of the Nazis in post-World War I Germany! One is tempted to wonder if Barbara Cleverly will have any plot lines left for a third Laetitia Talbot mystery after this tour de force, but I trust the author will live up to her surname and I’ll wait with great anticipation for the next volume. Once again Barbara Cleverly has given the reader a delightful whodunit, great atmosphere and sense of place, and compelling characters. This second Laetitia Talbot novel deserves four trowels!