[Review] Olmec Obituary by L.J.M. Owen

13:31 Cilla P 0 Comments

Texture: left-unspoken.net

I love cosy mysteries and lady detectives, so naturally I was intrigued by the premise of Dr. Pimms, Intermillenial Sleuth: Dr. Elizabeth Pimms, Canberra-based archaeologist-slash-librarian, sets upon solving thousands-year-old cold cases. It's a brilliant idea. As the first installment in the series, Olmec Obituary did a great job setting up the methods of Elizabeth's detections and introducing the core cast of characters. Its inclusion of various cultures is fabulous, but there are moments that gave me pause. 

One of my favourite parts of Olmec Obituary is the murder mystery and the detective work. Since the death Elizabeth investigates happened 3000 years ago, the usual detecting procedures don't apply. She can't go around interrogating suspects or inspecting crime scenes. Instead, she hits the books, talks to experts, and works with very old bones. There's a fair sprinkling of explanations around the methods she uses, like radiocarbon and dental non-metric analysis, which was easy to follow. It could be the nerd in me, but I really enjoyed reading about Elizabeth working.

My other favourite part of the book is the family dynamic. Family plays a huge part in Elizabeth's life, and we see both the support she receives from them and the conflict and resentment she feels for them. Her grandparents are a welcomed presence in the story, in turn comforting as well as helpful. It's worth noting that Elizabeth is biracial, half-Welsh, half-Chinese, and I really enjoyed that we got to see both sides and how their influences entwine in her home. In contrast to this, however, I was less taken by the conflict between her and her sister. While at the heart of it the conflict is deeply bitter, I felt that their clashes come across as childish at times. 

There were moments when the villains felt a little caricature-ish at times in their actions and descriptions. At one stage, flecks of phlegm gathered at the corners of one of the characters' mouth because he was growing angry. A colleague called Elizabeth out, in front of everyone else they worked with, on not wishing her a happy birthday. I felt that their characterisations could use with more subtlety. 

My biggest issue about Olmec Obituary, however, revolves around a couple of lines regarding the Chinese characters. Full disclosure: I come from a diaspora and immigrant background, so I bring  my experiences of the assumptions some people make of my background and language skills when they first look at me to my reading. These experiences are why I cringed at the following occurrences in the book:

The first is when Elizabeth meets Mai, the aforementioned colleague, and remarks that Mai looks similar to Nainai, her Chinese grandma. Then it comes as a surprise to her that Mai has an Australian accent. Later in the book, she's talking to Nainai and is struck again by the fact Nainai's English is so much better than her French grandma's. Now, I think there's a plotty reason as to why Elizabeth noticed the similarities between the two Chinese women's appearances, and she may be coming to it from an archaeological perspective about bone structures or something. The delivery, however, at first read as if it was going to be an ignorant comment about how Chinese all look alike. I thought the comments about the accent and the English fluency were weird, particularly given Elizabeth's own background, as it seems underlined by an assumption that Mai would've been foreign, or that French people would be better at English by default. Other readers might not have an issue with this at all. To me, unfortunately, they stuck out. 

Overall, Olmec Obituary is a fun and interesting approach to the cosy mystery genre, and I enjoyed its focus on family. It made an effort to include a diverse cast, but there are moments in the book that jarred in my mind regarding its description of its POCs.

(I bought and read a finished copy, thinking that my request for a review copy was not going to be granted. But then it was! So I do have a review copy, but this review was formed on the basis of the finished copy.)

Reading this book contributes to the following challenges:

❥ Goodreads Challenge
❥ The Backlist Books Reader Challenge

Title: Olmec Obituary (Dr Pimms, Intermillenial Sleuth #1) ❙ Author: L.J.M. Owen ❙ Publisher: Echo Publishing ❙ Source: Bought ❙ Release Date: 1 August 2016

"Archaeologist Dr Elizabeth Pimms thoroughly enjoys digging up old skeletons. But when she is called home from Egypt after a family loss, she has to sacrifice her passions for the sake of those around her.

Attempting to settle into her new role as a librarian, while also missing her boyfriend, Elizabeth is distracted from her woes by a new mystery: a royal Olmec cemetery, discovered deep in the Mexican jungle, with a 3000-year-old ballplayer who just might be a woman.

She soon discovers there are more skeletons to deal with than those covered in dirt and dust."


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