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“Private Grave 9” by Karen Joy Fowler
Card picked: Jack of Spades
From: McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, ed. by Michael Chabon
Thoughts: Archeological digs. In recent years, they’ve been at the center of action-paced adventure tales, like The Mummy and Raiders of the Lost Arc. Slightly closer to reality, the heyday of archeological expeditions boasted of curses and blood-thirsty tomb robbers. But my first Thrilling Tale is kind of a quiet one.
As Howard Carter is making headlines uncovering Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt in 1923, our unnamed narrator is a photographer at an “also ran” dig in Mesopotamia. Not long ago the tomb of a princess and her servants, and subtle clay shards depicting dogs and goats would have been enough to appease the dig’s patron, but not with brick-a-brac of gold and lapis being unearthed elsewhere. And don’t mention the entire level of infant skeletons that were also unearthed…
Our skeletons are too numerous to be tasteful.
Despite this, a distant relation of the dig’s director visits. Miss Whitfield is “an authoress” with five successful murder mysteries to her name. She is also a disruptive force, a pot-stirrer. She’s looking for dissent among the peaceful dig-site hierarchy. “But if you did murder someone,” she innocently asks, “would it be Mr. David or Mr. Patwin?”
Co-currently, our photographer develops a picture of Princess Tu-api which appears (to him) to show her face as it might have been in life. Is it Tu-api who is inspiring his discontent and violent visions or the evocative Miss Whitfield?
About the Author: I’ll admit it. Even as I wish that the boundary between “literary” and “genre” fiction didn’t exist, I suffer from a sort of cognitive dissonance when authors I’ve pegged as literary (Joyce Carol Oates, for example) write a genre story or vice versa. The first read story I read by Karen Joy Fowler was the Nebula award winning “What I Didn’t See.” It’s maybe light on the fantastic, but the association is enough to place her in my genre heap. That she also wrote The Jane Austen Book Club completely befuddles me. I read Fowler’s “The Queen of Hearts and Swords” during week ten of Deal Me In 2014.
Is This Your Card?
The Jack of Spades has an early cameo.