Poisoned Pen Press: Scottsdale, AZ
Mary Anna Evans has maintained the high level of quality she established in her first two Faye Longchamp novels, in this, her third entry in the series, entitled Effigies. Once again the reader is presented with a baffling mystery—the brutal murder of a very unsympathetic character, a Mississippi farmer named Carroll Calhoun. Because Calhoun had his throat cut with a flint-knapped blade, Faye and the crew of archaeologists with whom she is working close to the murder scene are potentially strong suspects. But then so are lots of other local people, who found Calhoun an obnoxious neighbor.
But Mary Anna Evans gives the reader more than a satisfying mystery—and in this case, the murderer proves to be the least likely of suspects—as she paints with words a harsh yet loving portrait of Neshoba County in Mississippi and its famed county fair. The fair, described as “Mississippi’s Giant Houseparty,” is integral to the plot of the novel, but it also serves as a vehicle to explore the complex cultural and racial history of rural Mississippi. Evans writes with brutal honesty of the class and race issues that remain close to the surface of Mississippi society, but also of the complexity of those issues in the early 21st Century. For Neshoba County is not far removed from the day when the Ku Klux Klan was a formidable force; yet white farmers and African American farmers come to Calhoun’s defense when his property rights seem to be endangered by the “outsiders,” represented by Faye and the archaeology crew working on a contract project adjacent to Calhoun’s farm. And it is the local Choctaw community that temporarily aligns with the archaeologists as Calhoun attempts to destroy a 3,000 year old mound on his property. But it quickly becomes evident that the alliance is fragile at best and the local Native Americans are no fonder of the archaeologists than are the local farmers, who feel threatened by the archaeologists and their sponsors. Old wounds, both emotional and physical, are re-opened when a case of brutal racial violence from more than forty years in the past is brought into the public spotlight.
As in the first two novels in the series, the reader is allowed to deal with this cauldron of events and emotions through the eyes of Faye Longhamp, a truly sympathetic protagonist in the realm of archaeology fiction. She loves the pursuit of archaeological knowledge, but her mixed-race heritage and her working-class background make her uniquely able to empathize with Native Americans who viscerally mistrust the intentions of archaeologists, to understand the misgivings of landowners who fear government intervention in the use of their land, and to understand the fear of “outsiders” shared by many people who are close to the land. This continues to be the continuing strength of the Fay Longchamp series—they encourage the reader to contemplate the effects of archaeology on those most affected by its activities: native communities and those living in the midst of significant archaeological districts. For that alone, we who love archaeology owe Mary Anna Evan a very real debt of gratitude.
Four trowels for this exciting and thought-provoking novel!