Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Tomb of Zeus - Book Review

The Tomb of Zeus
by Barbara Cleverly
Bantam Dell/Random House 2007

Set in Heraklion, Crete in 1928, this is Laetitia Talbot's first job as a newly minted archaelogist. Just off the plane from London to Athens, Laetitia meets Charles St George Russell on the boat to Crete while she is dealing with a bout of sea-sickness. It turns out that it had been arranged for Laetitia (aka Letty) to stay with George's family as his father is the renowned archaeologist Theodore Russell.

Once back on land in Heraklion, Letty's seasickness subsides and she is driven (in George's Bugatti) to the Russell Villa. At dinner she mets her ex-beau William Gunning who left London rather suddenly the previous year with no explanation. Also at the first dinner Letty meets George's stepmother Phoebe. Letty cannot explain it, but the villa and the Russell family are unnerving. She feels something bad amongst these 3 family members.

A week after Letty's arrival, Phoebe takes her on a picnic and a tour of the Knossos site that had recently been discovered by Arthur Evans. Two of Phoebe's friends show up - Dr Harold Stoddart and his wife Olivia. After the picnic Phoebe collapses and is taken home by Dr Stoddart. Olivia and Letty cycle home.

By the time Letty gets home, she discovers Phoebe is dead - hanging by a noose in her closet. Naturally the family are called as are the police. Inspector Mariani opens an investigation.

The following week, Theo Russell gives Letty a small site to dig up on the slopes of Mount Juktas and sends her off. William Gunning goes along to help and there is also a small experienced team of local men who will do the digging.

The inquest into Phoebe's death determines that she committed suicide. Letty and William are sure that Phoebe did not kill herself. So they set about doing their own investigation. Along the way Letty's bad feelings towards William's abrupt departure from London the previous year, are dealt with and they fall in love.

On the dig, they find a Minoan tomb - Theo Russell is quite desperate for an exciting find. He thinks it is the legendary Tomb of Zeus and plans to write it up and claim the find as his. On further investigation by Letty and William, the body in the tomb is female and a second body they find stuffed into a box is male but of a young boy, not that of Zeus. The speculation is that they are of Aphrodite and Adonis.

The mystery surrounding the Russell family, as well as Phoebe's death, are also cleared up with surprising results.

I really enjoyed this book for the wonderful details it gave of life in Crete in the 1920s. The old fashioned customs of the people of Crete versus the 1920s "modern" thinking of the British.

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