30 January 2016

Review: OLMEC OBITUARY, L.J.M. Owen

Synopsis (Publisher)

Yearning for her former life as an archaeologist, Australian librarian Dr. Elizabeth Pimms is struggling with a job she doesn't want, a family she both loves and resents, and enforced separation from her boyfriend.

A royal Olmec cemetery is discovered deep in the Mexican jungle, containing the earliest writing in all the Americas. Dr. Pimms is elated to join the team investigating these Aztec ancestors. Triumph is short-lived, however, as Elizabeth's position on the team is threatened by a volatile excavation director, contradictory evidence, and hostile colleagues. With everything working against her, will Dr Pimms find the cause of death for a 3,000-year-old athlete and those buried with her?

With the archaeological intrigue of Elizabeth Peters, forensic insight of Kathy Reichs, and comfort of a cosy mystery, Olmec Obituary is the first novel in a fascinating new series: Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth. Really cold cases.

My Take

Her father's unexpected and untimely death means that Dr Elizabeth Pimms, forensic archaeologist and Egyptologist, has to abandon work she is doing in Egypt to return to her family in Canberra and take work as a librarian, so that she can provide financial support for her brother and sister and extended family.

She is approached to do some voluntary weekend work in Canberra working on the bones of 17 skeletons retrieved from an Olmec cave in Mexico. Her work is to be unpaid because the supervisor says basically that she needs to prove herself before he will consider remuneration. Elizabeth finds this difficult to understand because he has already obviously spent considerable funds on the work in Mexico. He and she have a falling out however on the first day when Elizabeth challenges some of the conclusions he wants to publish about the remains.

The reader is given background story to the events which have resulted in the burial of the bodies. These are details that Elizabeth has no way of knowing because there are no written records relating to this site. I am not sure about the wisdom of this as a plot structure.

Elizabeth has a personal mystery to unravel related to the death of her mother in a car crash nearly a decade earlier. She has to admit that she has been wrong in her assumptions about what caused the crash. But jumping to the wrong conclusions seems to be pretty par for the course for Elizabeth.

There is a lot going on in this book but my enjoyment of it was not helped by the fact that I didn't particularly warm to Elizabeth herself. I thought I found some inconsistencies in the background details about Elizabeth: later in the book the family celebrates her 26th birthday, but in the Prologue we are told "after twenty years of yearning, planning and dedicated study she was finally here... a skilled archaeologist and knowledgeable Egyptologist". I found it difficult to juggle her expertise against her age, and would have been more comfortable if she had just been a few years older.

Nevertheless, it is always interesting to find a new female Australian author, with a very different scenario, leading me into a world I am not really familiar with.

A second book in the series is promised: MAYAN MENDACITY. Elements of the story from OLMEC OBITUARY are left unresolved, so this should help link the two.

My rating: 4.4


About the author
L.J.M. Owen drew extensively on her education and experience when developing the novel. Relevant qualifications include an undergraduate degree in archaeology and a PhD in palaeogenetics from ANU, and a graduate diploma in library management from Curtin University. See more information on her website.

1 comment:

Terra Hangen said...

This book has some elements I like, archaeology, mystery, Australian setting. I will keep it in mind.

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