I have just started reading A Month in the Country by JL Carr. It is a book set just after World War 1 and involves the restoration of an old wall painting in a church in rural England. At the same time someone else is undertaking an archaeological dig in the churchyard. I haven’t got far enough with the book to grasp the full plot but the writing is exquisite. I am really enjoying it.
This reminded me that I have read a number of books set in archaeological digs or similar so I thought that I would write a list of recommendations of books that I particularly enjoy set in this environment.
The first books which came to mind are those by Elly Griffiths. She has written an excellent set of crime mysteries featuring an archaeologist starting with The Crossing Places. They are great fun and the author has created a gloriously complicated life for the main character Ruth Galloway. Ruth is a very believable character with lots of flaws and the anxiety and life problems faced by the ordinary reader so it is very easy to identify with her.
Another mystery series featuring an archaeologist is the Amelia Peabody series set in Egypt. Our heroine is a Victorian archaeologist who finds herself involved in lots of crimes and murders. The books are full of master criminals, mummies, parasols, mistaken identity and all the ingredients of a great cosy crime series. The books are implausible and funny but the author was an Egyptologist so they are accurate in that aspect at least. Start with Crocodile on the Sandbank.
Cold Earth by Sarah Moss is set in a dig in Greenland. It is an eerie book filled with shadows from the past and an uncertainty about what is happening in the world outside their location. This author writes harrowing books as a rule but they are also quite compelling. This isn’t my favourite of hers but it is definitely worth a read – it is very different from the rest of those I have featured here.
Guy Gavriel Kay has written two fantasy novels where the main character is a creator of murals on temple walls although his are mosaic rather than paint. The first of these is Sailing to Sarantium and it is brilliantly created and told. The author really knows how to build an alternative world and to populate it with real characters who face complex problems. I highly recommend this and all his books.
Nora Roberts’ book Birthright is also set on an archaeological dig, in America this time. It is a romance and a bit of a mystery with a number of storylines about adoption, faked discoveries local opposition to the activity. It is a light but engaging read with lots of excellent banter between the two main characters.
Kate Ellis has written a series of detective stories featuring Wesley Peterson. Although Wesley is not himself an archaeologist he has the training and all the stories involve an historical theme linked to a modern investigation. They are not particularly demanding but the way that the author frames the story makes them interesting as the narrative moves around from present to past, and from police to archaeologist. The first one is The Merchant’s House.
Sharyn McCrumb is an American writer who has written a number of books featuring Elizabeth McPherson, a young woman who cannot decide what she wants to do with her life thus allowing the author to set stories in lots of different places and environments. In Paying the Piper the archaeological dig at the centre of the story is in Scotland and there is a mystery to solve. This is a lighthearted but fun book.
Eight very different books in this list. They are set around the world, and in another one. Some are in the past and at least one in an alternative future. They are mostly, but not all, crime related and I have read them all so I can recommend them to new readers who have at least a passing interest in archeological digs and stories that may be set there.