(Whitney Finalist, Historical)
I wasn't sure what to expect going into this story of an iconoclastic archeologist, Matt Howard ("Matt" legally changed her name from "Matilda"). And while I'm not sure what makes it "historical" (I would have placed it in the suspense category, myself), it was certainly an enjoyable read. In fact, it reminded me strongly of Elizabeth Peter's novels, which is about as high a compliment as I can pay it. Matt Howard and Amelia Peabody would have gotten along swimmingly.
The story opens strongly, with Matt excavating an archeological site in Iran. But after thieves drive them out, Matt returns home, stuffs her pack in a closet and proceeds to forget about it for nearly ten years, during which she acquires a semi-respectable job as a college professor and adopts a daughter from China.
But then during an impromptu cleaning of the closet, Matt discovers her pack. And in it, she discovers a gold coin--a coin that shouldn't exist. She's determined it's real, but her attempts to find out its origin prove futile. Meanwhile, in what feels like some kind of divine conspiracy, Matt finds her way to the sites of other North American anomalies: forts with elaborate maze-like fortifications, stone tablets with cuneiform inscriptions and, of all things, Bible scenes. But none of these things are supposed to exist, since the official archeology party line is that North America has no ancient culture and no evidence of diffusion (the idea that ancient Indians might have traded with or otherwise had contact with Ancient European and Middle Eastern cultures). But the more Matt finds, the more convinced she is that the archeology community is wrong. Trouble is, if she pursues her findings publicly, she's liable to face ridicule from the archeology community--and more to the point, lose her job and her means of supporting her daughter.
Matt herself is a delightful narrator: smart, funny, slightly perverse. And the anomalies she encountered (mostly based on real artifacts--you can read the historical details at the end of the novel) are fascinating. And the idea of a massive cover-up by professionals is appealing (Gunderson even manages to avoid making it sound paranoid). My only real issue with the novel was that it was short--after building suspense quite successfully, it wraps things up really quickly, and with a solution that felt, to me, like a let-down.