Ivy Books, New York
I found Cecil Dawkins’ Clay Dancers to be a deceptively disarming little novel. At only 217 pages in length, I read the first quarter of the book with some skepticism. The characters seemed too contrived: Tina Martinez was a conflicted young member of the Tsorigi tribe, sent by headman Cruz Domingue to be a fifth column within the archaeology crew working a site near Santa Fe, New Mexico; archaeologist Freya Markus was the near-Amazonian project director conflicted by her dedication to scientific investigation on one hand and her equally strong dedication to feminism on the other; the Earthwatch crew seemed to be cardboard cut-out stereotypes of various types-from the new age clairvoyant to the avuncular geologist– who pay large sums of money to work long hours under the intense Southwestern sun and sleep in tents during the cold high desert nights; and the hippy-ish Reuben Rubin, who alternates between being a serious student of archaeology and an all-around doofus.
Even as the mystery was unveiled-the death of the eccentric treasure-hunter Rap Singleton, first thought accidental and then proved to be murder-I was still pretty much unmoved by the storyline. But then something seemed to change with each turning page-the characters became more believable and more importantly, more sympathetic. But best of all, the archaeology became a greater part of the storyline and the conflicts between and among the main characters became more believable. The story not only follows the unraveling of the murder plot but also the discovery of an ancient cave with enigmatic rock art and the remains of a woman-very possibly a shaman-who had sealed herself within, clutching an artifact that would begin to illuminate Freya Markus’ search for true role of women in early Native American culture.
The writing is not great, the characters are perhaps a bit too stereotypical, but the story is engaging and the archaeological premise is interesting.
Two and a half trowels