Foul Play Press, Woodstock, VT
Last month I reviewed something of a stinker entitled The Lost Testament, by Alan Gold. Gold’s book is part of a sub-genre of fiction –usually thriller or mystery—dealing with the “what if” of the Dead Sea Scrolls. What if new scrolls were discovered or translations completed that shed new light on the life of Christ. Gold took this premise and turned out a heavy-handed and fairly unsubtle potboiler. Margot Arnold, in another Penny Spring and Sir Toby Glendower mystery, handles the premise deftly and with great wit and cunning. Those of you who may have read an earlier review of an earlier Penny and Toby mystery (April, 2002) know that I’m not exactly dispassionate about this series—I’ve loved it since first discovering some ten years ago and still enjoy re-reading these little gems.
Zadok’s Treasure finds Sir Toby hauling Penny off to Israel to search for an old friend and archaeological colleague, Bill Pierson, who has disappeared from his dig site in the Negev Desert. This search is undertaken at the urging of Pierson’s possible widow, Valerie, who seems equally interested in finding her husband and checking out the details of the large life insurance policy he took out on himself just before leaving on expedition. Pierson, whose career in archaeology has been somewhat lackluster up to this point –he is apparently a very fine practitioner of archaeology but has thus far lacked the “Big Discovery” that will establish him in the pantheon of premiere archaeologists—is hunting for the fabled treasure of Zadok, high priest to Solomon, which is rumored in lore and legend to be hidden somewhere in the vicinity of Qumran and the Dead Sea.
Against a backdrop of Israeli-Palestinian political intrigue and terror, Toby searches out the stark wastelands of the Negev and finally finds the body of his old colleague, killed by gunshot but not before he has been brutally tortured and mutilated. But here the mystery takes a seeming turn away from the quest for Zadok’s treasure to the discovery of a remnant of scroll vellum that is apparently part of a census document of an Essene community. Included in this census is a Judas of Cario (Iscariot); Joseph, resident of Arimathea; and “Jesus Filius Josephus (Jesus son of Joseph), resident of Nazareth.
Margot Arnold takes the reader on a journey through a thicket of plot twists and turns, dead ends and red herrings before the mystery of Bill Pierson’s murder is solved, but it’s an entertaining trip. The complex plot is made all the more enjoyable by the creation of believable and complex characters, both good and bad. And central to this wonderful series is the relationship between Penny and Toby, the aging Scully and Mulder of archaeological fiction!