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Wednesday 29 April 2020

‘The Lost Shrine’ by Nicola Ford

Published by Allison & Busby,
20 February 2020.
ISBN: 978-0-174902490-1 (PB)

In this, the second in this series featuring archaeologists Clare Hills and Dr David Barbrook, both directors of the Hart Archaeological Research Institute (the Hart Unit) has been saved from having to close for lack of funding by an intervention from the unit’s supporter Dame (Professor) Margaret Bockford who has found a project for the unit for fieldwork on a site called Bailsgrove in the Cotswolds. The fieldwork is to evaluate the site ahead of development for housing. Neither David nor Clare are particularly keen to take up the project when they discover that the site is Bailsgrove because the previous dig director had been Beth Kinsella, notorious for her obsession with the Iron Age, had recently killed herself. But Clare feels she has no choice because if the Hart Unit is forced to close through lack of funding she will be out of a job and will not be able to buy the house she has set her heart on. David who is a lecturer at the university to which the Hart Unit is attached is financially in a better position but nonetheless agrees to accompany Clare.

However, once on the dig, Clare is very much in her element. Assisted by her friend, Californian human bone specialist Jo Granski, she is trying to sort out the chaotic excavation records (such a vital part of any dig) while assorted pagan devotees led by the eccentric Wayne Crabbs (Crabby) carry out their ceremonies on the site. Meanwhile the property developer Paul Marshall visits the site and forcibly expresses his anger at the delays and expense caused to his plans for development. One of Beth’s fellow-archaeologists, Neil Fuller, tells Clare that Beth had been convinced the site contained an Iron Age shrine but his view was that there was no evidence and Beth’s obsession with the Celts had led her astray.

Things grow ever more complicated with the emergence of ‘nighthawk’ activity at Bailsgrove. (‘Nighthawks’ are illegal metal detectorists who dig up prehistoric sites in the hope of finding valuable objects which they can sell on the black market; their activities all too often result in trashing the site). And then there is the discovery of three infant burials and the resulting ghoulish reporting by the press. Followed by other deaths, this time distinctly recent.

This is a fascinating tale with strong and interesting characters, securely grounded in the author’s undoubted archaeological knowledge. It is clear that there will be more to come.  Very much recommended.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Nicola Ford is the pen-name for archaeologist Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust Archaeologist for the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. Through her day-job and now her writing, she’s spent more time than most people thinking about the dead.

 Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.

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