Artifact by Gigi Pandian is a traditional mystery debut and the first in the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt series, in which a historian's led by a jewel-encrusted Indian artifact to a Scottish legend of lost treasure. (available August 6, 2013).
With Artifact we meet the lively Miss Jaya Jones, a study in contrasts. She’s a distinguished professor who loves to wear stilettos to heighten her five-foot frame, studies trade routes and military skirmishes of the British East India Company, plays the tabla drum in a local restaurant two nights a week, lives in a small apartment above her eccentric landlady, and eats like a stevedore.
I think she must look somewhat like an ant when carrying the tabla case over her shoulder. Like most mystery heroines, however, there’s more to Jaya than meets the eye. I really liked her. She’s ambitious and doesn’t allow something as tedious as danger keep her from finding what she’s seeking.
Pandian brings us into the story at midnight. Not only does this add to the sinister atmosphere, it makes for a great exchange between Jaya and Nadia, her landlady.
Convinced Jaya has blood on her shoe, Nadia doesn’t hesitate to speculate how it got there:
“It was one of those helpful men, no?” she asked, handing me a box of tissues. “I knew it! One of those nice fellows this city is full of, who offer to help you carry your drum case when you are out at a ‘gig.’ One of them was too insistent, eh?”
“You could not resist putting him in his place. Stomping on his innocent foot with your treacherous heel as he valiantly offered to help ease your burden.” She swept her arm through the air in front of her. “You drew blood, and it splashed up from the tip of your heel onto the cuff of his Dockers and the top of your high-heeled shoe.”
My eyes widened as I imagined the vivid scene. Just because there had been one teeny-tiny, well-justified incident ages ago…And where had Nadia learned her English? All I was certain of was that the cup of coffee that hadn’t left her hand was definitely not decaffeinated.
Turns out it was chicken tikka masala, not blood, but wouldn’t that have been interesting?
Artifact is the first book of the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mysteries, and it’s a great start. Pandian received the Malice Domestic Grant for Artifact, and Henery Press acquired the series. It was named a Best of 2012 by Suspense Magazine with good reason. It’s a fun read with lots of adventure, secrecy, and a host of good suspects.
Jaya’s unexpected adventure begins when she reads an article about the death of Rupert Chadwick in a car accident on a coastal highway in Scotland. Rupert’s family is very wealthy and well known, which is why his death made international news. He was also a former lover of Jaya’s. Nadia gives Jaya a package delivered earlier in the day and it’s from Rupert, sent to her on the day he died. Enclosed is an “artifact” that is obviously very old and still carries the dirt from being dug up. As she studies the gold piece with its gorgeous ruby, she can’t help but wonder if Rupert’s death was accident after all.
She takes the piece to her university to find an expert to give her information and meets Lane Peters. He shares the history behind jewelry like this piece and wants to write an article about it. She returns home to find her apartment had been ransacked. Someone wants what Rupert sent her. Jaya has to know why.
Filled with suspense, rich history, and a variety of exotic locations, most of the action takes place in Scotland, near the magnificent coastline of St. Andrews. I was fortunate enough to visit there once and loved reading about it in Pandian’s book. Though the story depends on history, Pandian doesn’t let it bog down the plot. She plugs it in as necessary but doesn’t stop the action at all.
While Jaya is trying to find where the priceless artifact came from, she finds herself in constant danger and unable to trust anyone. She ends up at an archeological dig where Rupert was working before his sudden death. All the answers are there, but, pardon my pun, there’s a lot of dirt covering them.
When she’s heading for London, she surprised to find Lane going, too. Does he know more than he’s told her about the artifact? Does he have sinister plans for her?
Lane picked up a small bag on the ground at his feet, then strode quickly toward me. With his free hand, he took my hand in his. I felt a sharp jolt of electricity. It must have been the carpet. “Grab your stuff,” he said.
I stared up at him. “What?”
He said. “I didn’t want you to miss your flight.”
“You followed me!”
“Aren’t you going to thank me? That was pretty stupid to try to bring pepper spray on a flight. I thought Nadia said you knew judo or something anyway?”
“I didn’t put that can in my bag,” I snapped, dropping his hand.
“You didn’t?” His eyes darted around.
“Long story,” I said. “You don’t need to worry about it.”
“What did you say to the security guard?”
“We should get out of here,” he said. “Muscle man might change his mind.”
I grabbed my bags and shoes and let Lane lead me away from the security area. I stopped once we were a few dozen yards into the concourse.
“How did you do that?” I asked, dropping my bags and putting on my shoes.
“You’re lucky it was only pepper spray, not a Taser.”
“But what did you say?”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “It worked.”
“You’re right. What matters is that you followed me.”
“I followed your lead, but not you.” He started walking again, looking around at the gate numbers. He pulled a ticket out of his dress shirt pocket without slowing, glanced at it, then put it back.
I caught up to him.
“I’m going to London,” he said, “to write that article. All those paintings to back up this new hypothesis will be at the British Library in London. You wouldn’t want my article to be full of shoddy scholarship, would you?”
He stopped in front of a gate. My gate. I flung my backpack onto the empty seat in front of me.
“No direct flights to Scotland?” Lane asked.
“Rupert was a lecturer in London. I’m stopping there before heading up to Scotland.” An announcement crackled on the speakers above, informing us that pre-boarding would begin momentarily.
“I’ll be right back,” Lane said. He approached a flight staff member at the counter. He leaned over and folded his arms on the high counter, facing away from me. The young woman giggled and tucked a loose lock of hair behind her ear flirtatiously. She began typing on the computer. A few moments later, she handed two small pieces of paper to Lane.
“What was that?” I asked once he returned.
“I got us seats together.”
“Sorry they’re in the back. Peak summer season and all.”
He handed me a new boarding pass. I hadn’t noticed my old one was missing out of the front pocket of my bag. “What makes you think I want to sit with you?”
“Aren’t you worried about your burglar? He didn’t get what he’s after.”
A priceless piece of jewelry, a trail through history that might lead to death, a group of secretive, ambitious people who have their own interests at heart, and a mystical, magical place where fairies might live. Oh, didn’t I mention there’s Celtic magic involved too?
Fasten your seatbelt for this one. It’s a bumpy ride!
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Leigh Neely is a former journalist and editor who writes fiction fulltime now. She and her writing partner, Jan Powell, recently sold their first novel, Second Nature by Neely Powell, to The Wild Rose Press. They’re currently working on the Connelly Witches Trilogy for Harlequin Digital. Leigh also writes for the popular blogs, womenofmystery.net and neelypowell.wordpress.com and maintains a website, www.neelypowell.com.