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THICKER THAN MUD by Jason Z.  Morris

THICKER THAN MUD

by Jason Z. Morris

Publisher: Manuscript

An archaeologist wrestles with a cascade of emotionally challenging problems and makes a potentially significant historical discovery in this debut novel. 

While on an archaeological dig in Israel, Adam Drascher, a professor of religious studies, examines a piece of ceramic collected by an eager graduate student named Maggie. It turns out to be a spectacular find: an eighth-century piece adorned with an ancient Hebrew inscription that refers to a group that called itself the “Healers” and lived in the Holy Land before the Israelites. But Adam receives a troubling call that his grandfather Hank is terribly ill and that he should rush home to Queens. Danny Blumberg—a contemporary of Adam’s who was all but adopted by Hank when he became estranged from his own family—delivers the news, much to Adam’s chagrin, since he always resented the man’s closeness to his grandfather. Hank was like a father to both boys—after Adam’s parents died, he became the child’s custodian. Hank dies and leaves a cassette recording for Adam that reveals his suspicion that Danny is his brother, the result of his father’s adulterous affair. This is information Adam isn’t anxious to disclose. When Danny is arrested for brutally beating up his wife’s lover, Adam twists the truth of what happened to protect him, a loyal move that potentially places him in legal jeopardy, a complex moral conundrum intelligently depicted by Morris. Meanwhile, Adam struggles to make tenure, a predicament only worsened when his mentor, Claudia Renaud, takes sole credit for the artifact they jointly identified. The author artfully blends intriguing civilization history and personal drama—Adam intentionally excavates the former and is compelled by circumstances to confront the latter. His utter exasperation is movingly palpable: “I don’t break bones and put people in the hospital. I don’t conspire. I don’t ambush. I don’t get interrogated by the police, or kidnapped, or whatever the hell this is. But somehow, I’m waist deep in this shit.” While brimming with psychological nuances, the story is unfortunately weighed down by too many detours—a police officer investigating Danny sets Adam up with her niece on a blind date, an unlikely and unnecessary turn of events.

A thoughtful but meandering family tale.