Poisoned Pen Press: Scottsdale, AZ
Mary Anna Evans’ fourth entry in her Faye Longchamp mystery series represents both a return and a departure. It returns Faye and her companion Joe Wolf Mantooth to Faye’s antebellum homestead on Joyeuse Island, just off the panhandle coast of west Florida. This mansion, renovated by Faye and Joe, figured prominently in the initial volume, entitled Artifacts. It marks something of a departure in that archaeological excavation plays a less prominent roll from the previous novels. But in so doing, Evans teaches the reader something all archaeologists learn—often to their dismay: that excavation is but one element of archaeological investigation, and that the hours spent in the laboratory or library may easily outnumber the hours spent in the field.
Following themes first explored in Artifacts, this novel is as much about Faye’s ancestors and their neighbors who lived through the trauma of the War Between the States and its aftermath. It especially tells the story, through the vehicle of personal letters that Faye and Joe research in the Florida State University library archives, Jedediah Bachelder, a nearly forgotten minor figure in the nascent government of the Confederate States of America. Bachelder’s integrity and strength of character, his love for his wife and the land he farms, and his dedication to the Confederacy –despite its many flaws—are richly illuminated in the letters he wrote to his wife, and to which Faye and Joe have turned to discover clues to solving two very contemporary crimes—the brutal slaying of two of Faye’s friends.
The first victim is Faye’s friend, mentor and employer, Douglass Everett, a wealthy self-made African American entrepreneur who has Faye do laboratory analysis of artifacts for his Museum of American Slavery. While cleaning artifacts from an excavation she is undertaking, Faye finds she has unwittingly unearthed a fabulous emerald. Within hours Douglass Everett is brutally murdered in a break-in, but the emerald turns out not to be the object of the crime—only Faye’s excavation notebooks are stolen. A second murder follows closely—that of an old sometimes friend, sometimes antagonist of Faye’s—literally in Faye’s arms. The clues he whispers with his dying breath hints that there is more at stake than historic relics and artifacts. A coldly dispassionate killer is hunting for treasure—perhaps even the legendary and fabled lost Confederate gold!
Evans not only constructs a tightly plotted murder mystery, replete with likely suspects whose archaeological looting activities are particularly pernicious and conscienceless, but she renders a tender narrative of the beautifully subtle and complex relationship between Faye and Joe.
This may not be the best archaeological mystery in the Faye Longchamp series, but Findings is the most richly conceived thus far. We gain additional insight into the strengths and weakness of Faye and Joe and we learn of the nobility, honor and humanity of some of the Confederacy’s stalwart supporters. While quite a different novel than those that came before, this most recent Faye Longchamp mystery deserves four trowels.