Sign up for e-News Donate
Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

Past Malice by Dana Cameron

September 1, 2003

Avon Books, New York
2003 (hc and pb)

I’ve come to wait with great anticipation for the Emma Fielding mysteries, penned by real-life archaeologist Dana Cameron. Her debut novel, Site Unseen, was a very tightly written work that incorporated interesting characters in an interesting situation, with lots of good archaeology (both as a science and as a way of life) that allowed the reader to get an accurate picture of what field work is like—plus it was a darn good murder mystery. Her second Emma Fielding mystery, Grave Consequences, followed the pattern set by the earlier work and proved to be an entertaining mystery set in England.

In this, the third in the series, Emma Fielding returns to the United States and a summer historic archaeology project in Stone Harbor, Massachusetts. Emma and her graduate student crew have barely begun their project when the bodies begin to pile up like cordwood. The first victim is a young and very well liked (by most people, at least!) security guard at the historic Chandler House—discovered by Emma. Shortly thereafter one of the members of the remarkably dysfunctional Stone Harbor Historical Society is found dead—again by Emma.

Once again the yarn spun by Dana Cameron is a good one and the mystery an engaging tale. But there doesn’t seem to be enough story to sustain the novel’s 356 pages. There are lengthy digressions into Emma’s relationship with her rather flaky younger sister and marital stresses brought on by her inclination to get involved in murder investigations. Perhaps these sideshows will play important roles in mysteries yet to come, but neither seems to fit particularly well within the plotline of this book nor do they move the story on. They seem to exist primarily to expand a good 180-page mystery into a sometimes-plodding 350+ page work.

Nonetheless, I must admit that I’m looking forward to the fourth Emma Fielding mystery and I hope Dana Cameron re-captures the magic of the first two entries in this series.