Sunday, April 8, 2018

Book Club Discussion Questions for Catacomb

1. The premise behind the story is that there are still undiscovered troves of art looted by the Nazis in locations around Europe--in this case, underneath the city of Rome. Do you find this premise believable? Why or why not?

2. Flora finds an old diary that tells the story of a young woman from a French family of art collectors who marries an Italian during World War II. How does this story add to the suspense of searching for art under Rome?

3. Flora and Vittorio have some problems in their relationship. Do you see growth in their characters and their understanding of each other between the beginning of the book and the end?

4. Museums or collectors who purchased art without knowing it was stolen are often reluctant to return the pieces to the original owners. How do you believe government agencies should handle repatriation of artworks?

Sunday, August 7, 2016


I have just released a short story, Death on Display, on Amazon Kindle. The premise: An archaeologist and physician recreate an Egyptian mummy using a modern cadaver and ancient embalming methods. Then they put the finished mummy on display at an international conference reception...what could possibly go wrong? 

This story is a tribute to the most fascinating conference I ever attended, the World Congress on Mummy Studies. Where else can you hear about a waxwork on display out west that turned out to be a mummy, or “piggies in peat” (experimental animal mummification using piglets in peat bogs in Europe)? I can truthfully say I attended more papers than I usually do because I was absolutely mesmerized with the subject matter.

The first session was on the ethics of mummies—both the study of dead bodies and the display of them. The concept of stakeholder theory was introduced: who are the stakeholders in a mummy display?  The scientists, the museum staff, the public, the mummy itself…and the descendants of the mummy, if they can be identified. And here is a lesson for the unwary: a protest about a “stuffed Eskimo” in a museum case incensed Greenlanders until a DNA analysis proved that the body in question was of Dutch origin. Then, the protesters said it was okay to call it a “stuffed Dutchman,” just not an Eskimo. But, as we all agreed, it was clearly not respectful to label any mummy, a dead human being, a “stuffed” anything.

Another session told the story of Mumab, a human cadaver embalmed Egyptian-style in modern times. This project, a collaboration between Dr. Bob Brier, an Egyptologist, and Dr. Ronn Wade of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, tested everything we thought we knew about Egyptian embalming. The two scientists had a heck of a time getting the necessary permissions to eviscerate the cadaver, embalm it, and preserve it for posterity. The finished mummy was eventually loaned to the San Diego Museum of Man, just in time to become the centerpiece of an exhibit and the star of our Mummy Congress conference reception.

The bizarre experience of observing a freshly made mummy in a museum case while sipping white wine with other mummy fans inspired my story, Death on Display. I’m giving away ten copies on Amazon here over the next two weeks. After that, it will be only 99 cents.

Saturday, March 12, 2016


The label says “artist unknown” and a date of “about 530 B.C., or modern forgery.” What is it? A Greek statue of a young man, or kouros. It’s a statue, purchased by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, California, and the center of an international controversy. Was one of the richest museums in the world hoodwinked by paying a cool nine million for the statue in 1985? Or does the Getty possess one of the best-preserved examples in existence of Archaic Greek sculpture?

Nobody knows. After art historians examined it and pronounced it a pastiche of sculptural styles and “too good to be true,” the statue was whisked off display for further tests. After geologists typed the marble and dissected the patina on the statue’s surface, scholars from all over the world gathered in Athens, Greece, to debate the kouros’ authenticity. The verdict was surprising: experts were split down the middle, half of them deeming the statue an original Greek sculpture, half believing it is a forgery produced in Rome. Unlike many museums that hide suspect art in their storerooms, the Getty had the good sense to put the statue back on display with all the art historical and scientific argument so the viewers can absorb the evidence and decide for themselves.

The Getty kouros story fascinated me because it’s such a great example of how art historians and scientists can work intensively together and still not produce a conclusive or desired result. It also inspired my latest novel, Burnt Siena (Five Star, June 2015). In this book, the beginning of a new series, young conservator Flora Garibaldi takes her first professional job with a renowned firm of painting conservators in Siena, Italy. But instead of doing the advanced repairs and in-painting she’s been trained for, Flora finds herself doing menial tasks such as mixing gesso for picture frame touchups. Then, her colleague and roommate Ernst Mann is found dead in the street below their apartment balcony. The Italian police, after ruling Flora innocent of murder, persuade her to spy on her employers. Flora is trapped between the competing demands of the Carabinieri and the Lorenzettis: genial Beppe, sulky Pietro, and hunky and amorous Marco. Flora thinks Marco is being used by his family to divert police attention and generate income by replicating Greek sculpture. Will Marco’s statue be sold as a legitimate, museum-grade copy, or as a Greek “masterpiece?” Flora’s emotional turmoil grows as she works to protect Marco, avenge Ernst, and fight her growing attraction to policeman Vittorio Bernini.

At the heart of the story is the age-old dilemma of what market value to place on a “priceless” antiquity or a first-class forgery. Private buyers will pay enormous sums to purchase something they believe enhances their own prestige or that of their collections. Major museums all over the world have bought art works of dubious provenance that turn out to be stolen or faked.  And the most peculiar aspect of the art market is how supply and demand works: as long as people continue to pay ridiculous for hijacked antiquities or classy forgeries, unscrupulous men will continue to rob archaeological sites and fake masterpieces.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

2015 Edition of The Dead Sea Codex is here!

The Dead Sea Codex is "born again!" (ahem).

It may take time for the older editions to disappear from Amazon.

The new Kindle edition can be found here. All the quotations marks around dialogue have been restored (as they were in the beginning, and ever shall be, amen!).

The new Paperback edition is here

Saturday, November 21, 2015

New Edition of The Dead Sea Codex coming out in December

The Dead Sea Codex is Book 1 in my Lisa Donahue Archaeological Mystery series. In some ways, it is my favorite book. Writing it took me straight back to the almost two years I spent living and studying in Israel in the 1970s. My adventures were nothing like Lisa's, but living in the Middle East was a turning point in my life. I fell in love with archaeology and spent my entire academic career in that field. The experience changed my perspective, influenced my politics, and got me interested in the world's greatest religions.

In this novel, Lisa and a former boyfriend stumble upon a scrap of an ancient codex that two groups desire because of its explosive contents. Dated to the first century AD, the codex details the beliefs of a female disciple of Jesus. The scholars want to find the entire codex and publish it; the conservative Christians want to destroy it.

After discovering that someone had altered the digital files of my original novel to remove all the quotation marks, I decided I really, really needed a new edition (and a new publisher). I am thrilled to be back with Wings ePress with a new, improved edition and an exciting new cover. Here it is:

Wings also published book 3 in the Lisa Donahue series, with another beautiful cover.

This small publisher has an excellent, hardworking staff. My experience this time around was wonderful, even better than the first time. Special thanks to Senior Editor Jeanne Smith, Artist Richard Stroud, Art Director Pat Evans, and Acting President Marilyn Kapp. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Archaeology and Murder News June 2015

Below is my occasional newsletter, reinvented to coincide with the debut of Burnt Siena ...

My newest novel, Burnt Siena, comes out this week (on June 17) from Five Star/Cengage Learning. It begins a new series (The Flora Garibaldi Art History Mysteries). Flora is a young paintings conservator, recently trained in Florence, Italy, who moves to Siena to take a new job with a firm of Italian painters and conservators. Anticipating a dream job using her advanced skills, she is disappointed when her employers sideline her doing menial tasks like mixing gesso and applying gold foil to picture frames. Then, a colleague is murdered and her new job takes her into dangerous territory: forging paintings and smuggling antiquities.
The book comes out simultaneously in Kindle and hardcover.
More murder news: I am re-reading Ellis Peters/Edith Pargeter for her terrific descriptions and wonderful plots. She’s best known for her Brother Cadfael mysteries, but did you know she had several pseudonyms and wrote over 50 books total?
Other news: I had a blast teaching a course on “Archaeology and the Bible” at our local Osher Lifelong Learning center this past semester. A hundred students, ages 50-90, kept me challenged with fascinating questions and showed far more engagement than most undergraduates. The most outrageous site we discussed was the double palace and lake (complete with island) built by Herod the Great at Herodion.
More archaeology news:
Wine-making, anyone? Discovery of ancient pressing floor in Israel by a teen-ager walking her dog!
When I teach archaeology, I point out the obvious: I don’t look at all like Indiana Jones. But this fictional character has changed the world view of archaeology. Check out this new exhibit put on by National Geographic.

And last but not least, mummy news: Researchers continue to make new discoveries about health of Egyptians in ancient times through CT scans and other techniques. But animal mummies also provide surprises: many of them were fakes.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A New Book Cover!

I am delighted to post my new book cover from Five Star. "Burnt Siena" takes place in Siena, Italy. There was some debate (mostly on my part) whether the title should be "Burnt Siena" after the city or "Burnt Sienna" after the painting pigment. As you will see, "Siena" won, and I am pleased because the cover captures both meanings: my favorite city on earth, and the warm brown tones of much of the architecture there.

This will be the first of a new series, the Flora Garibaldi Art History Mysteries. Flora, a paintings conservator, uses many traditional pigments in her restoration work.