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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

Lady in the Lake by Jason Foss

January 1, 2016

Severn House Publishers:  New York
1996 (HC)

In the 1990s a British writer and archaeologist named Jason Foss penned a number of mysteries featuring Jeffrey Flint, an archaeologist/sleuth who teaches at the not-terribly-prestigious University of North Yorkshire, recently elevated from polytechnic status.  In addition to his teaching duties, he directs a 2 ½ person archaeological consultancy called UNY-DIG, designed to generate additional revenue for the chronically under-funded archaeology program.   UNY-DIG proves to be something less than a cash cow, due mainly to the university’s usuriously high overhead rates from Flint’s point of view.  His full time partner in the consultancy is Tyrone Drake, who is a somewhat more serious academic than Flint, but is, truth be told, something of a twit.

Lady in the Lake is the fourth Jeffrey Flint mystery and is a very well-written archaeological whodunit, not unlike some of Agatha Christie’s better efforts, but with a bit more of a contemporary edge to it.  Flint is hired by Consolidated Assurance PLC, an insurance company based in Leeds to prove that an artifact recently unearthed by one of its clients is actually a fake.  The artifact in question is supposedly Excalibur, the sword of King Arthur and the discoverer/client proves to be Lady Harriet “Harry” Dunning, an eccentric all-around amateur academic and an old acquaintance of Flint’s.

Flint takes on the contract with the company, in great part because he hopes to dissuade Harry from revealing her “discovery” in the very public forum of the up-coming meeting of the Pendragon Society and opening herself up to scorn and ridicule.   She, along with her obnoxiously materialistic son Gavin, rejects Flint’s entreaties and perseveres in her intention to display Excalibur before the Society, which is a loosely-affiliated collection of Arthurian enthusiasts who range from serious scholars of literature, history and mythology to those who believe Arthur will literally return to save Britain from catastrophe.

The unfortunate situation turns much darker when Lady Harry fails to appear for her session and is subsequently found dead, an apparent victim of drowning, but lying on the bank of the small lake on her estate.  The possibility of death by natural causes seems to grow more unlikely as both a replica of the sword and the ancient Excalibur itself are stolen and Flint and Drake are nearly killed by a homicidal motorist who tries to force them off a back-country road.  The two archaeologists continue their investigations at the behest of Consolidated Assurance, which is on the hook for considerable money insuring both swords and Lady Harry’s life.  Their investigation leads them from one Arthurian site to another in the quest for the missing swords and the likely killer of Lady Harry and also through the byzantine world of the Pendragon Society, rife with intrigues and petty jealousies.  Fittingly enough, the denouement takes our heroes to the ruins of Tintagel, Mallory’s birthplace of Arthur, even though it was built some 600 years after the event.

In addition to Lady in the Lake being a very cleverly concocted mystery, the novel also gives a fascinating backstage glimpse of the scholarly as well as the cultish aspects of Arthurian studies.  Three trowels for Jason Foss’s entertaining Jeffry Flint mystery.