Berkley Publishing Group, New York
The Lara McClintoch mystery series, of which The Magyar Venus is the eighth installment, just keeps getting better and better. While some other archaeological mystery series – I’m concerned about the Kathy Reichs and Dana Cameron novels—seem to perhaps be running on fumes, judging from their last entries—Lyn Hamilton’s skills appear to be getting stronger with each new novel.
One of the strong elements in the Lara McClintoch series has been its sense of place—particularly its sense of exotic place. From the initial novel The Xibalba Murders, set in Mexico, to later episodes set in such exotic locales as Malta, Ireland, and Thailand, among others, one constant of the series was the author’s ability to make the locale come to life and to make the reader want to visit those places. This has apparently worked well enough for Lyn Hamilton to stage tours based on her novels! The Magyar Venus is no different except that Lara (and the reader) do not arrive in Hungary until page 129.
The first half of the book sets the stage for Lara’s investigations in Budapest and rural Hungary. The reader is introduced to a number of women who, along with Lara, were dubbed the Dovercourt Divas some twenty or more years earlier when they were all students at the University of Toronto, as well as some of their male friends. While this might sound a bit like a CBC version of “Friends,” the impromptu reunion activity at the opening of a new exhibit at the Cottingham Museum turns first nasty and then deadly when decades-old animosities flare up, too much alcohol is consumed by nearly everyone—including Lara (or is it a date-rape drug?), and one of the Divas winds up a suicide (or is it murder?)!
At the center of these swirling emotions and events is the Magyar Venus, an Upper Paleolithic figure of a woman carved in mammoth ivory. This ancient artifact brought Lara’s old friends together, may have caused the death of one of the them, reunited Lara with an old lover, and then proved to be the reason that a mysterious assailant tracks her through the primitive hinterland of Hungary. This assailant, it soon becomes apparent, will only be satisfied with Lara’s death.
This is another wonderful entry in this entertaining series, and while I’ve never considered Hungary to be high on my list of “must-see” countries in the world, it is now!