Best Archaeological Mystery Books

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If you’re looking for a list of some of the best archaeological mystery books, you’ve landed on the right place. I love mysteries and archaeological mysteries take a special place in my heart. Ever since I read the first book by the now deceased author Elizabeth Peters (real name Barbara Mertz), called Crocodile on the Sandbank, I knew archaeology would be something that I would always enjoy reading.

While my life took me in a complete different direction, with no means of studying archaeology, the passion for reading books (fiction and non-fiction) about this subject has never waned. I honestly think I’ve read so far almost every archaeological mystery novel that was written till now.

So let’s see what are some of the best of the best in archaeological fiction with a mystery or two involved, that I can heartily recommend.

Crocodile On The Sandbank

First of all, if you haven’t read the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters, you’re in for a fun ride and a long list of books to read. With 19 books under her belt, the author has created an unforgettable Victorian series featuring Amelia Peabody, an Egyptologist at the beginning of the 20th century and her soon to become husband, Walter Emerson, with a later addition of their cute and fun son Walter (called Ramses).

The Amelia Peabody series has really brought the archaeological mystery genre to light, which set the way for many other authors to follow in her footsteps, some successfully, while others not so much.

Did you know that the author has written several books under yet another pseudonym, Barbara Michaels, with a book among them being an archaeological mystery? The book is called The Sea King’s Daughter, which is about Sandy Frederick, the daughter of an archaeologist who goes to work for him as a diver on Thera, a Greek island, to find a sunken treasure. Written in 1975, it is a classic that is well worth reading.

Lost Army Of Cambyses

The Yusuf Khalifa series by Paul Sussman is one that I literally could not put down. I read the first two books one after another. While I read most of my books these days on my iPad, these two were actually sitting on my bookshelf gathering dust until I decided to tackle them. And I was glad that I did.

The Lost Army Of Cambyses, published in 2002,  is the first book in the 3 book series and it follows detective Khalifa who has to somehow connect the murder of an antique dealer, the death of Tara Mullray’s father, an archeologist in Egypt and a mutilated corpse which literally washed up at the shores of Nile.

Everything seems to point to a long lost army of Cambyses which set out in ancient Persia to conquer a portion of Egypt and somehow got lost in the desert, never to be heard or seen from again. It is quite a suspenseful book combining a modern terrorist in Egypt, the ancient lost army of Cambyses and some nazy secrets thown in for good measure as well. I read the book over a weekend, and then started right onto the next one in the series.

Sadly there are only 3 books in the series as the author passed away in 2012. I highly recommend this fun and highly entertaining adventure mystery series.

A Rumor Of Bones

The Lindsay Chamberlain series by Bevery Connor is another well known and popular series that many archaeological lovers enjoy reading. The author has also written another well known series (maybe even better known as this one) called Diane Fallon, which focuses on Diane, a forensic anthropologist solving murder cases (btw, if you like CSI style of forensic science novels involving murders, this one is a good series to catch up to). The series has currently 5 books, with a 6th one underway.

The first book in the Lindsay Chamberlain series is A Rumor Of Bones, a novel which introduces Lindsay, forensic anthropologist who makes use of her skills and knowledge to help with  tracking down the murderer of several young girls.

The entire series is very pleasant to read, however you won’t find that much action the series. I find it a bit more ‘cerebral’ in nature, so to speak. Still one of the highest recommend series to read if you want to find something new in the genre. Btw, you don’t have to read these books in the strictest of order, you can basically start reading them with any you find first.

The Crossing Places

Coming next is the Ruth Galloway series written by Elly Griffiths. This series is a new addition to the archaeological mystery genre, with the first book published in 2009. It includes 5 books to read (4 books and one novella) and each features Ruth, another forensic anthropologist, who solves murder mysteries book after book.

The first book is Crossing Places and you can read my review about it here. Again this entire series is not one of those high suspense novels, but more a quiet type of mystery, started in the veins of Amelia Peabody series. It is a delightful read, however, worth checking out every single book within.

Sphinx by Robin Cook

Robin Cook is a master of medical mystery novels. If you think of medical mysteries, his name is probably up in the top 5 author names that pop up in your head. However he also has one book that has nothing to do with the medical establishment and the killers lurking on the hospital hallways.

Sphinx is a standalone novel which Robin Cook wrote back in 1979. I read it as a teen (shortly after reading the first book in the Amelia Peabody series) and I really enjoyed it. The story evolves around Erica Baron, who is an archaeologist living in Boston.

Since she’s just broken up with her boyfriend, she decides to go to Egypt to try to forget him, while also fulfilling one of her old wishes of actually visiting this country with a great history still there to explore. As soon as she gets there she witnesses a murder and gets entangled with the wrong kind of people.

The novel, btw, has been made into a movie back in the 1980s with Lesley-Anne Down, and it follows the plot from the book fairly well. I recommend both reading the book and catching up with this classic movie for an hour or two so of fun time.

The Xibalba Murders

Lyn Hamilton is another author of a popular archaeological book series called An Archaeological Mystery featuring Lara McClintoch, an antique dealer who can’t seem to stay in one place. She is what it’s called peripatetic, a person who travels the world without settling down for too long in one place. The author passed away in 2009, so currently there are 11 books in the series with no more to be written.

The Xibalba Murders is the first book in the series, written in 1997. Lara McClintoch flies to Mexico (Merida) to a an old friend after he calls her with some exciting news. She has recently divorced her husband so she eagerly takes on the assignment – only to find the client disappeared before he could fully explain to her what exactly he had in mind.

I really enjoyed this books as it deals with Mayan treasures and history, something that I’ve been drawn to for a long time. The entire series is worth reading if you like archaeological mysteries.

Chronicle of the Mound Builders

Chronicle of the Mound Builders is a standalone novel by Elle Marie where the archaeologist Dr. Angela Hunter is working on a dig site in the Cahokia Mounds in the Mississippi area. The team finds an ancient jar with a beautiful birdman design on it, which needs to be dated and opened, a task that falls under Angela’s duties. The jar once opened includes a mysterious codex.

The book contains stories from the present and the past which eventually will intertwine, all having Angela in their middle with a discovery of an ancient and dark secret which many want to prevent Angela from finding out. It is a great read with a strong character, a great plot, a bit of romance and even supernatural included for good measure.

Haunted Ground by Erin Hart

Here comes another great series for the lovers of archaeological mysteries: the Nora Gavin series by Erin Hart. The series includes currently 4 books, with the 4th published in 2013, and the first one published back in in 2003. It follows Nora Gavin, an American pathologist who teams up with Cormac Maguire, an Irish archaeologist, to solve not only archaeological mysteries, but murder mysteries as well.

The first novel, Haunted Ground finds Nora and Cormac working together to investigate the discovery of a decapitated head and find out whom it belongs to. All they know so far is that it belongs to a young read headed girl.

In a parallel story we have the mystery of a missing local woman and her child. Could it be that the severed head is that of the missing woman, who literally disappeared one day with her boy?

The author weaves the two tales nicely in without making it seem forced. It is a pleasant read, with lots of suspense which builds up after a relatively slow beginning.

River God by Wilbur Smith

Willbur Smith has written a fun archaeological thriller 4 book series called Ancient Egypt. I have to admit I have only read the first book in the series, River God, with the rest still being on my TBR shelf. While fiction, it has a great description of the history of Egypt which I find fascinating.

If you like your novels rather short, you will struggle a bit with this book as I remember it being quite long. I know it used to be quite heavy in my hands to hold. However the fast paced action and suspense more than offsets this slight issue – which is not an issue at all if you like your books to be huge, to seemingly almost never end.

Taita, a highly skilled and knowledgeable slave and eunuch is the one who narrates the story of Lostris and Tanus, both living in ancient Egypt. It is a strong love story which is not cheesy, but is woven beautifully in the lyrics of the times gone by. It has romance, action, adventure, and lots and lots of history. I daresay this is an epic of a book, and I’m hoping that the next ones in the series are just as grand as this one.

The Third Gate by Lincoln Child

The Third Gate by Lincoln Child is a book I picked up last year when it was published (a neighbor bought it and lent it to me to read). Lincoln Child has a fun mystery series together with Douglas Preston focusing on the special agent Pendergast, which is probably one of my most favorite mystery series ever, however each author has written standalone novels separately as well.

The Third Gate is the latest novel by Lincoln Child and it is an archaeological adventure worth reading for its sheer pure fun. Porter Stone and his team is trying to find the location of the curse of King Narmer. Something that especially grabbed me in the book was the part about NDE (near death experiences) and the paranormal, which is a subject that I enjoy reading about (in non-fiction books as well).

While I initially found the book rather slow moving, once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down. Lincoln Child has not lost his touch, and I’m looking forward to a next standalone novel by him.


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6 Responses to “Best Archaeological Mystery Books”

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  1. MMurphy says:

    You might want to add the Wesley Peterson series by author Kate Ellis. Peterson is a detective in Devon solving modern day crimes. He was an archeology student in university and his old friend from university, Neil, is an archeologist who is also working in the Devon area. These novels usually offer two mysteries being solved concurrently, a modern day one and an archeological one.

  2. Murder in Mexico is my series of eleven mysteries set in and around the expat colony of San Miguel de Allende. Artist Paul Zacher is drawn into crime investigation because ‘he might see things differently.’ In this case, counterfeit Mayan ceramics are at the core of the problem. Maybe it’s time for the humanity of Mexico to show through all the narco headlines! Take a look at this suspenseful and often funny series, available in Print, Kindle, Nook, & Kobo. Start with ‘Twenty Centavos’ by trying a sample on my website.

    • Aileen Baron says:

      I am a retired archaeologist who did most of my fieldwork in the Middle East. You might try my Lily Sampson series, a historical archaeological mystery series that takes place during WW II. The first book in the series, the award winning A FLY HAS A HUNDRED EYES, takes place in British Mandated Palestine in 1938 when a British archaeologist is killed on his way to the opening of the Rockefeller Museum, and the British police do nothing about it. In the second book in the series, THE TORCH OF TANGIER, Lily is recruited by the OSS to help in the preparations for the Allied invasion of North Africa, Operation Torch. In the third book of the series, THE SCORPION’S BITE, Lily is doing an archaeological survey of Jordan for the OSS. All of the books are based on actual events, and the archaeology is authentic. Happy reading.
      Aileen G. Baron

  3. claudia krusch says:

    love your book choices!

  4. Madison says:

    Those are quite a lot of books. I’m a big Robin Cook fan so will check out his Sphinx. The Haunted Grounds sounds nice too. So much books to read!

  5. Michelle Liew says:

    These look like loads of fun… Thanks for the intro, will be sure to check them out.

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