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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

A Shroud of Leaves by Rebecca Alexander

July 1, 2020

Titan Books:  London
2019 (PB)

Following last year’s atmospheric thriller, A Baby’s Bones, author Rebecca Alexander re-introduces her heroine, archaeologist Sage Westfield, to what one hopes will be a rapidly growing readership.  In what would seem a counter-intuitive career move after the traumas Sage experienced in the aforementioned A Baby’s Bones, the young archaeologist has turned her interests to forensic archaeology, specializing in crime investigations.

Her first investigation, carried out under the supervision of her mentor and colleague Trent Reynolds, concerns the brutal murder of a young girl, identified as River Sloane, whose body is ritualistically covered with leaves in a very shallow grave adjacent to the sinister Chorleigh House in New Forest.   Its lone occupant is the strangely reclusive Alistair Chorleigh, who, some twenty-five years earlier, had been the key suspect in the disappearance of Lara Black, last seen in the close vicinity of Chorleigh House.  While virtually everyone in the area believed him guilty of the girl’s disappearance, Alistair was exonerated due to lack of evidence, and he continued his hermit-like existence in his ramshackle home, even after the death of his over-bearing and politically connected father.   The spotlight of guilt again shines on Alistair as the police inquiry discovers that the both Lara and River, separated by a quarter century, shared not only a similarity in appearance, but also a passionate and politically active interest in animal rights and welfare, which may have put them at odds with the Chorleigh family tradition.

The mystery deepens as Sage utilizes her skills as an archaeologist in sifting out—both literally and figuratively—the microscopic clues hidden in the leafy shallow grave that was River Sloane’s last resting place.  These clues seem to suggest that the pathetic Alistair may indeed be innocent of River’s murder.  Her friend and colleague, social anthropologist Felix Guichard, is brought into the case just as he was twenty five years earlier during the investigation of the missing Lara Black.

His expertise in folklore and local mythologies hint at the existence of malevolent and occult practices might be relevant in both cases.

Rebecca Alexander has written another evocative mystery that creates a sense of dread that builds to a thrilling crescendo as Sage discovers, at her extreme peril, that the secrets of Chorleigh House and environs are to be found in the musty pages of an archaeologist’s journal from 1913 as well as the murderous passions of today.

Four trowels for the darkly sinister A Shroud of Leaves.