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Converting her nonfiction research into historical suspense, first-time novelist Simani challenges the integrity of acclaimed archaeologists Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson and George Smith.

In the mid-19th century, archaeologists’ discoveries in the Tigris-Euphrates region altered the biblical timeline. Taking the reader from Mesopotamia to Paris to London, Simani introduces real-life archaeologists Austen Layard, Jules Oppert, Fulgence Fresnel, Rawlinson and Smith, among many others (as the three-page list of characters will attest), showing how their lives and discoveries were intertwined, and how nearly all were affected by the machinations of Rawlinson. Taking on the uneducated, working-class but gifted Smith as his assistant, Rawlinson schools him in matters both archaeological and unethical. What to do if your dig is not as productive as you had hoped? Buy artifacts on the black market. Having trouble with a translation? Make it up. Research challenged by colleagues? Discredit theirs. As if forgery were not enough, Rawlinson also dabbles in anti-Semitism and racism. While he remains reprehensible, Simani’s exquisite character development imbues Smith, a man of humble origins, with sympathy. Oppert vacillates from being a main to a secondary character, but he is probably the most fascinating of the long list of them. The novel’s historical elements are well researched, and Simani displays an additional gift for weaving an engrossing love story, as evidenced by the relationship accounts of Layard, Oppert and Smith. The author occasionally allows her characters to engage in long, dull conversations, rehashing events that occurred off-screen, but otherwise she manages to create a mainly interesting mystery.

A riveting tale of archaeological intrigue.




Pub Date: Dec. 7th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1461052814
Page count: 453pp
Publisher: The Third House
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2012