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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

Wrecked by Mary Anna Evans

December 1, 2020

Poisoned Pen Press:  Naperville, IL
2020 (PB)

Following two adventures in Oklahoma and one in Tennessee, contract archaeologist Faye Longchamp and her husband Joe Mantooth return to their antebellum home on Joyeuse Island, just off the Florida panhandle coast.  What might be a bucolic return to the old homestead is violently interrupted by a hurricane that sweeps through Micco County.  While Joyeuse itself is left relatively unscathed, many of Faye and Joe’s friends and neighbors on the mainland are devastated by the raging storm, and they, along with adopted daughter Amande, turn their efforts to bringing supplies to the storm’s victims.

Joe employs his new hobby, flying a drone equipped with photographic equipment, to survey the storm’s impact in the general area of Joyeuse Island.  He inadvertently captured the image of a dark smudge in the shallows just off the island.  Faye believes it might be a present-day sub-surface spring that had been exposed by the recent storm and had been a source of freshwater on dry land some 15,000 earlier.  As a youngster, Faye had discovered pre-Clovis projectile points in the general area and the spring could provide further proof of such an early man site.  An alternative theory is suggested when Faye shows Joe’s photos, while delivering relief goods to local historian, Captain Edward Eubank, a wonderfully kind retiree who has turned his home library into an archival resource for both amateur and professional historians.  He believes, drawing on historical documentation from Faye’s own ancestor Cally Stanton, a freed slave, that the dark blotch on the photo is evidence of a sunken Civil War era blockade runner, the Philomela—a smuggler’s ship—mostly buried in the sandy bottom.

The tight-knit Gulf community, struggling with the hurricane’s aftermath, is further shaken when Captain Eubank is found floating dead, washed up into the local marina, in full SCUBA gear.  Faye believes the captain had gone off alone, seeking the sunken Civil War blockade runner, and while the local authorities believe it was an accidental drowning, no one can ever recall the captain showing any interest in diving, nor had he made any purchase of the expensive equipment at any of the local dive shops.

Other mysteries begin to pile up in the little community still struggling to escape from the ravages of the storm—a missing mother and child, a larcenous insurance adjustor, the willful destruction of Joe’s drone, missing documents from Captain Eubank’s library, the suspicious actions of a young researcher in and around the captain’s home, and the near-death of newspaper heir, Nate Peterson, in a fashion very similar to Captain Eubank.  Are these events linked?  Or is a matter of unscrupulous individuals taking advantage of the chaos left in the wake of the hurricane?

Because Faye fears those nearest and dearest to her are in potentially grave danger from the events haunting Joyeuse Island and Micco County, she dedicates her efforts to unraveling the web of crime following in the hurricane’s wake.

As in the previous twelve Faye Longchamp novels, author Evans continues to develop the complex characters that inhabit Faye’s fictional world and with great relish, plunges them into a myriad of fraught situations.  A reader might have wished for a bit more archaeology to flesh out the plot (this reader did) but the vivid description of post-hurricane events—the misery, the destruction and despair, the hopelessness of losing so much to nature and to looters—all are graphically and realistically portrayed and lend a sense of reality that is incredibly gripping, and very likely justifies  placing archaeology in the background as Faye, Joe and Amande dedicate their energies to aiding their neighbors—and solving crimes!

Four trowels for the latest Faye Longchamp mystery.