Tuesday, June 15, 2010


By Mary Anna Evans
Poisoned Pen Press, August 2005
294 Pgs., Hardcover
ISBN: 978-159-058362-3

This is the author's second novel featuring insouciant pot-hunter Faye Longchamp. Faye appears to have reformed since we last encountered her. She's back in school, studying to be an archeologist. Once again author Evans gives us a cast of interesting characters involved in various questionable if enthralling activities, even though the readers' sense of disbelief is sorely tested.

Longchamp is tasked to supervise the crew of an archeological-cum-social/historical project in central Alabama. She isn't qualified. She knows it and so does the institute which is running the project, as well as do the academic experts who are on the scene. Never mind, she creates order out of chaos, soon earns the loyalty of several locals who are on the crew and dodges ravening dogs, surly local inhabitants and murderous thieves. All in a days work.

The novel explores archeology, oral history, genealogy and medical diciplines. It seems an ethnically separate group or band of settlers have been living relatively isolated lives in the middle of the state. Doctors on the perimeter of the settlements are discovering that members of the clan are highly resistant to AIDS, among other communicable diseases. The government thereupon, and to the discomfort of the residents, mosty of whom value their privacy, issues grants, orders, research topics and general disruption.

The target group is called the Sujosa and no once seems to know quite where they came from or why. They don't fit in with surrounding populations which has caused various troubles in the past and made the clan more than a little suspicious of government in particular and of strangers in their midst. Arbitrarily plunking a group of stuffy strangers with a lot of perceived rules and attitudes among the Sujosa is a recipe for trouble and murder soon ensues.

There are lapses in logic, plot holes and occasional awkward writing. Nevertheless the central plot is a really interesting idea. From it, Evans adeptly splits off sub-plots involving some local relationships that are interesting to follow. The author is good at revealing the tensions, attitudes and prejudices of superannuated academics in both amusing and irksome ways. Some of the relationships and characters are very well developed and one might wish for fewer characters and more attention to those remaining. Likewise, one might wish for fewer plot twists and sub-plots and more complete development of those that remain.

The pace of the story is not swift, but there are few lapses. If emotional tensions between the characters are never riveting, they aren't dull and boring, either. Readers will learn a good deal, in an engaging way, about some arcane and relatively unpopular academic disciplines. That is a good thing. Never a thriller, Relics is however, a satisfying and worthy second effort.

Carl Brookins

Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island, Bloody Halls

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