I didn’t even realize I was longing for Jaya Jones, a modern, Indian-American Indiana Jones, but I’m delighted to have found her. She’s great fun in this adventure/treasure hunt/mystery. Pandian jumps in headfirst: “An old lover was dead before his thirtieth birthday. A ruby anklet rested in my lap inside his handkerchief. The package had been sent to me from Scotland, where said old lover was recently killed in a car wreck. A feeling of helpless confusion spread through me. In spite of what Hollywood movies suggest, it’s not commonplace for historians to receive mysterious packages containing jewel-encrusted artifacts previously in the possession of recently deceased archaeologists.” Naturally, she’ll have to pop over to Scotland, where ex-lover Rupert was last working, to investigate his death and the provenance of the anklet. There will be a break-in at her apartment to up the stakes. And she’ll travel with hunky Indian-artifact-expert Lane without worrying overmuch that he’s a complete stranger or questioning his motives.
There’s a key plot twist that I saw coming from several miles away, but I didn’t mind. Pandian isn’t taking her genre overly seriously; in fact, she pokes a bit of fun at it along the way (obviously, since her professor hero is Dr. Jones). Jaya is endearing despite her questionable choices, and she has layers. She’s a professor of history trying to get tenure, a tabla musician at the Tandoori Palace, and a woman caught between two heritages: “‘It’s the perfect balance,’ I said. ‘When I’m overseas in an English-speaking country, it’s similar yet different enough at the same time. It’s liberating…I’m not supposed to fit in here…I’m a foreigner in India, where I was born, and to some extent I’m even a foreigner at home. But here, it feels much more natural being asked where I’m from since I’m not in one of the two countries I’m actually from. There aren’t the same expectations about who I’m supposed to be.'”
Jaya was born to an American man and an Indian woman in India, but her mother died when she was very young, so she grew up in America with an American father. Her older brother has recently decided to speak to her only in Hindi, of which she knows little. Her best friend (and music partner), Sanjay (The Hindi Houdini), teases her about being “a bad Indian” with the gaps in her knowledge. Interestingly, he speaks Punjabi, while Jaya’s mother was Tamil, which gives Pandian an opportunity to educate her readers a bit about India without condescending or being pedantic. I enjoyed both the historical education and the modern cultural one very much.
What does an Indian artifact that shouldn’t exist have to do with a Pictish dig in Scotland? Finding out is great fun. An unexpected highlight: Fergus and Angus, two Scottish locals who frequent the pub where Rupert had been staying, who think Jaya is “a dark fayrie.” Scottish fairy lore is sprinkled in as the locals resist the digging. Jaya and Lane infiltrate Rupert’s archaeology crew to gather clues, which is entertaining enough to make up for its implausibility. Suspects are everywhere, and the action veers from one place to the next.
Source disclosure: I received this e-book courtesy of the publisher.