In the debut novel Artifacts, a reader can easily become swept up in the mystery and tension of the story. The pace is quick and concise without sacrificing detail. After reading this novel, one finds it hard to believe that Last Isle doesn’t truly exist–that the history and lore of the area, not to mention the life stories of the characters we meet along the way–none of that is real, in the end. But it sure feels like it while immersed in the world of archaeology, unearthing relics, and uncovering hidden crimes.
Faye Longchamp, the heroine in Artifacts, is steadily sinking in a pile of bills. Her run-down family estate, which she hides from the world, is so far behind in taxes that Faye fears it could be taken from her at any moment. She would do anything to save her home, even if that means going against everything she believes in. To a serious archeologist, the lowest form of life is that of a "pothunter". Where an archeologist seeks to preserve the past, a pothunter is a mere scavenger, stealing antiquities from their resting places, to turn a dime on the black market. Faye has become one of the worst, a pothunter. Still, her motivations are real and understandable. And even though she’s doing the unthinkable, she’s not as bad as some of the unsavory pothunters she tangles with along her quest to save her home, Joyeuse.
The dichotomy of Faye’s plight is well-crafted – do what is right, or do what you must. It’s not hard to see how someone in Faye’s position would react. The plotting of Artifacts is wholly believable, and as a reader, I quickly became sympathetic to Faye’s dilemma.
While there is no way to know how much of the fiction is fact-based, the novel is crafted so well that one instinctively believes the local lore and archeology trade passages.
The distinctly Southern flavor of this books is amplified by an eclectic cast of characters, all quirky and memorable long after the last page has been turned: Faye, a native Floridian of questionable descent; the drunkard Willie, who hides behind his bottle very well; the civil rights leader who buys Faye’s ill-gotten treasures; the simple woodsman who is not as dumb as he looks; and the Senator whom Faye begins a May/December relationship with. All these people (and more) are intertwined when several buried secrets are discovered, culminating in the death of two research students and ending with a watery-showdown during a titan hurricane.
I started this novel late one evening, fully intending to finish it the next day after an hour or so of reading. I embarrassed to say things didn’t play out quite as I intended. I read Artifacts from cover to cover in one sitting– which put me to bed at roughly three a.m. As a connoisseur of books, I know there are worst crimes. And, of course, I can always blame my inability to put the tome down on the author– Mary Anna Evans. She did a superb job of crafting her debut novel, and I look forward to reviewing her next one.
You will read this novel for it’s gripping plot and interesting cast, but you’ll savor it for its rich tutorial in slavery, coastal history and heritage. In fact, this book is well worth reading a second time.