“Who could resist a tale,” asks Hamilton, “that ends with the words, before he went mad Bjarni the Wanderer hid the cauldron in the tomb of the orcs”?
A centuries-old Viking fable resurfaces in Toronto when a treasure map supposedly leading to Bjarni Haraldsson’s cache turns up in a $1.5 million writing cabinet purchased by bazillionaire collector Blair Baldwin. Unfortunately for Blair, the desk is a fake, and Lara McClintoch (The Moai Murders, 2005, etc.), the dealer who authenticated it for him, finds her reputation in tatters. Even worse, the dealer who sold it to him, Trevor Wylie, finds his head in tatters when an axe is embedded in his skull. Did Blair do it? Lara thinks not. She tracks Trevor’s roots and the desk’s provenance back to Glasgow and then the Orkney Island settlement of St. Margaret’s Hope, where she bumps into Wylie’s last girlfriend Willow, who’s reticent about why she’s there, and Percy, last seen ferreting through Trevor’s Toronto antique shop and now willing to show Lara Neolithic Orkney stones and WWII battlements. When he’s stabbed and his dying words echo those of the Bjarni fable, Lara focuses on another collector’s skullduggery. It all leads to more deaths and last-chapter complexities even more incredible than Bjarni’s saga.
About five subplots too many, but Hamilton makes the islands of Orkney so beguiling they ought to be listed as a top-ten travel destination.