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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

Desecration by Dan Baldwin

March 1, 2019

Four Knights Press:  San Bernardino, CA
2013 (PB)

Ashley Hayes is an archaeologist on the faculty of Centenary College of Louisiana in Shreveport.  She specializes in the archaeology of the Caddo Nation, a confederation of a number of tribes that historically inhabited parts of East Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma, and has honed her skills at survival camping, ancient tool-making, and related facets of experimental archaeology.  The reader is introduced to a dedicated scholar and champion of science-based archaeology who at times will be at odds with artifact hunters and dealers, politicians, and even on occasion representatives of native peoples.

These conflicts are brought into focus at the annual Caddo Conference, which focuses the attention of professionals and amateurs alike on Caddo culture, whose antecedents extend back to the Woodland peoples who occupied the Piney Woods geographical area c. 200 BC to 800 AD.  Between 800 and 1000 AD these bands coalaesced into a Mississippian culture that featured expanding villages, major earthworks that served as religious and political centers of power.  By 1200 AD a distinct Caddoan society had emerged that featured large scale agriculture and villages wealthy enough to support artisans and craftsmen who manufactured artifacts of stunning beauty.  These Mississippian peoples were direct ancestors of the historic Caddo tribe and the modern-day Caddo Nation of Oklahoma.

But Ashley’s academic interests are rudely interrupted when Detective Herbert “Bummer” La Salle of the Shreveport Police Department seeks her expertise and help in solving the criminal desecration of a cemetery crypt of a prominent local family, the Beauregard-Sibleys.  His only clue is the word “caddaja” scrawled on the crypt—a Caddo word meaning “devil.”  He hopes that Ashley can provide him with insights into the Caddo culture that will help him “think Indian,” as he inelegantly phrases it.  LaSalle’s investigations, with Ashley’s reluctant aid, leads him to the home of Kirby Wheeler Sibley, the debauched scion of the old family, who proudly shows off the magnificent collection of Caddo antiquities acquired over the generations.  Not long after, Kirby Sibley was found horrifically murdered in his home and the word “caddajo” painted in blood at the scene of the crime.  This ties into the recent and equally bloody murder of a café waitress at the nearby Tall Pines Restaurant in Murfreesboro, Arkansas.  The crazed killer was heard to scream the word “caddajo,” and LaSalle entreats Ashley to continue her consulting with the Shreveport police to help bring the maniac to justice before more people die.

What follows is a convoluted manhunt for a killer who sees himself as the defender of Caddo culture, whose twisted sense of vengeance puts both Ashley and LaSalle in the gravest danger possible.  The trail of the killer also brings Ashley and LaSalle into intimate contact with a network of pot hunters, grave robbers and antiquities dealers that are in a very real sense the spark that sets off the homicidal maniac they seek to stop.

This is a bloody and graphically violent novel, and therefore perhaps not for every reader.  But the plot is well-conceived and the characters believably imagined—although LaSalle’s constant punning can get a bit annoying! Ashley is a convincing heroine, dedicated to her archaeological pursuits and equally dedicated to helping her new friend track down the fiendish killer that threatens their little corner of the world.  The author deftly paints a literary portrait of the hardscrabble land that is northwest Louisiana, east Texas, and adjacent areas Arkansas and Oklahoma, and its earthy and rawboned inhabitants.  There are even echoes of Flannery O’Connor or Carson McCullers in author Baldwin’s prose as he describes the landscape, lore and legends of this slice of rural America.

Three trowels for Desecration.