Arcane Books, Paris, Kentucky
Field of Stones is the third entry in the Laney McVey mystery series, and as near as I can tell, is the only one with an archaeology motif. Author Dungan has done some background research on the subject of field archaeology and writes quite convincingly about it. Laney McVey, the series protagonist, is the inheritor/owner of Stoney Creek Bed & Breakfast and a 250-acre horse farm near Bluegrass, Kentucky, and the story opens as a crew of archaeologists from Parker Webb University in Louisiana move in to conduct a field school excavation. While the object of the dig is a Late Woodland site, the crew soon makes two unanticipated discoveries—the 200-year-old burial of a white man, probably an 18th Century surveyor given some artifacts found in situ, who may or may not have met a violent death and the tiny body of a relatively recent newborn, wrapped in gunny sacking, and apparently bludgeoned to death.
On page 216, Char Hamilton, Laney’s best friend, observes, “My God…you make it all sound like a soap opera…” and in many ways that does sum up this book. In addition to the efforts of two of the young archaeologists who are trying to trace down the identity of the two-centuries-old burial and Laney trying to discover the identity of the newborn murder victim, there are countless side stories involving Laney’s niece Cilla, who is involved in an abusive romantic relationship; Laney’s on-again, off-again love affair with large animal veterinarian Graham Prescott; and Char’s struggle to maintain her relationship with her Scottish lover, Malcolm, who is recovering from an injury and is being relentlessly pursued by the vixenish live-in caregiver, Ivy Hart. All of these subtexts do fit into the overall plot, however contrived that plot may be at times. There is also a major mystery hanging over the paternity of one of the main characters, a youthful student archaeologist named Toby Hart, son of the aforementioned Ivy. Toby, who falls in love with Laney’s battered niece Cilla, has never known the identity of his father. Was it the wealthy previous owner of Stoney Creek Farm, Paul Carson? Or was it the long-suffering friend and financial advisor to Carson, Jerome Whalen—who turns up murdered late in the story? Or was it perhaps even the handsome and rakish archaeologist Dr. Bucky Gage, who is directing the field school at Stoney Creek Farm?
All in all, this is a fairly compelling mystery, and as stated earlier, the archaeology subplot is handled quite well. If there is one disconcerting element to the archaeology, it is that Bucky Gage, who may be of questionable virtue but is nevertheless an accomplished archaeologist, allows his students to refer to the burial of the 18th Century surveyor as “Bones.” I don’t think any modern archaeologist would allow that kind of disrespect be shown to the remains of a human being.
Field of Stones gets two trowels.