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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

The Orkney Scroll by Lyn Hamilton

October 1, 2006

Berkley Publishing Group: New York
2006 (hc)

As has become the case with a number of authors I have reviewed, the publication of a new Lyn Hamilton “Archaeological Mystery” is almost like a visit from an old friend.  In this, her tenth Lara McClintoch novel, Hamilton seems to have reached new heights of excellence.  She maintains those elements of her earlier works that work very well—an engaging protagonist with a sense of humor and a sense of self that for the most part steers clear of irritating personal “issues,” and an artist’s eye when it comes to describing exotic lands and locales.  In this newest entry she spins a wonderfully complex murder mystery deftly wrapped within the lore and legends of Orkney, a group of tiny islands off the northeast coast of Scotland, whose prehistory dates back some 5,000 years and features some of the oldest monuments in Europe.

The story begins in typically low-key Lyn Hamilton fashion with an informal soiree for some of Toronto’s elite and experts in the world of antique trade—including Lara McClintoch.  They are gathered to celebrate the acquisition by a prominent local lawyer of an extremely valuable 19th Century writing table—valued at well over $1 million.  Lara has verified its provenance and Trevor Wylie, an antiques dealer has closed the deal.  To everyone’s consternation, Blair Baldwin, the buyer, suddenly turns on Lara and Trevor, accusing them of foisting a fake upon him and destroying the Mackintosh table with an axe.  Later that same evening Trevor Wylie is found dead, with an axe buried in his skull!

While Baldwin is clearly the Toronto police favorite suspect, Lara mourns the death of her colleague and agonizes over the stain upon her reputation for she had verified the genuineness of the desk and further investigation of the table following the death of Wylie showed that the table was indeed a fake.  Following a trail of invoices and other documents, Lara traces the desk to Orkney and discovers an even more mysterious trail that links antique furniture, the thousand-year-old journeys of a Viking adventurer known in the Orkneyinga Saga as Bjarni the Wanderer, and the Arthurian legends of the Fisher King and the search for the Holy Grail.  Lyn Hamilton unfolds this wonderfully complex mystery while teaching the reader much about the spare beauty of Orkney, the prehistoric treasures of those tiny islands and the charm and humanity of its inhabitants.

As has been the case with a number of earlier Lara McClintoch mysteries, I find myself adding Orkney to the list of places I must visit in the not too distant future—all because of Lyn Hamilton’s ability to make a distant land too magical to miss.

The Orkney Scroll easily deserves four trowels!