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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

The Scorpion’s Bite by Aileen G. Baron

July 1, 2018

Poisoned Pen Press:  Scottsdale AZ
210 (HC)

It is 1943 and University of Chicago ABD archaeologist Lily Sampson, still suffering from the loss of her lover at the Battle of Al Alamein, is recruited by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (the World War II predecessor to the CIA) to team up with Gideon Weil, famed Director of the American School of Oriental Studies in Jerusalem to conduct an archaeological survey in the Emirate of Trans-Jordan.  They are accompanied by photographer Klaus Steiner, who is a refugee from Nazi Germany.   The survey is obviously a cover for the team’s spying on German and Vichy French operations in the Levant, and before the novel reaches it denouement, their adventures extend to gathering intelligence necessary to sabotage an oil pipeline pumping station serving the needs of the Vichy and the Nazis, ferreting out a German spy ring, and the rescue of the adolescent king of Iraq, Faisal II.

This is the third and final Lily Sampson novel penned by the late California State University, Fullerton archaeologist Aileen G. Baron.  Like the two earlier entries in the series, The Fly Has a Hundred Eyes and The Torch of Tangier, The Scorpion’s Bite is a gracefully written mystery that demonstrates the author’s command of the tenor and intrigues of the Middle East during the years of World War II.  But even more engaging is the author’s command of the history and archaeology of that beleaguered land—from the hunter-gatherers of Paleolithic times to the fraught political situation between the Hashemite dynasty of Trans-Jordan and the Wahhabist-backed and oil-rich rulers of Saudi Arabia—and her brilliant descriptions of the land and cultures of the Middle East.  The book would be worthwhile reading, if only for the description Ms. Baron renders of Petra, the ancient capital of the Nabataeans, who controlled desert trade during Roman times.  It is an absolutely exquisite narrative, told with the loving and discerning eye of an archaeologist.

Three trowels for Aileen G. Baron’s The Scorpion’s Bite.