From Publishers Weekly
East Africa, the cradle of human evolution, turns out, in this elegant debut, to be a cauldron of professional and personal jealousies for the paleoanthropologists mining its fossil fields. In the remote and inhospitable reaches of the country of Asalia, a conference brings together an eccentric group of scientists and graduate students who compete for meager research funds and dream of making the ultimate hominid find. None is more cutthroat than American Bob Shafer, who has betrayed or undermined just about every other attendee. But Shafer, on the verge of announcing a major discovery, has disappeared. Among those possibly responsible for his vanishing are a spurned lover; a grand lady of anthropology and her nephew; an English expatriate; a Dutchman; a Belgian; and Schafer's former prot?g?, Balebe Thanatu. When Balebe's friend Cynthia Cavallo joins his dig a year later, and Shafer's body is finally found, the two graduate students are engulfed by the mystery, and by their growing affection for each other. Durant writes finely detailed descriptions of East Africa's arid terrain and of its emergence from colonialism. Though the novel's suspense is muted, her knowledge of field research and ability to portray credibly the odd characters who surround academia make the book an absorbing, as well as educational, read.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
Every paleoanthropologist in Africa, it seems, has good reason to hate Dr. Bob Shafer, and quite a few archeologists are unhappy with him too. From a time beyond memory, it seems, he's been feuding with David Pierce, of Asalia's national museum, and his well-connected Aunt Anthea; a few years back, he romanced and discarded rival researcher Melanie Baine, of San Felipe State; and most recently he hid the discovery of a breakthrough hominid fossil from Belgian expedition head Jan van de Haven, cheating both van de Haven and Balebe Thanatu, the graduate student who'd actually found the fossil, of the credit. Although Balebe, the son of Asalia's influential attorney general, kept Shafer's perfidy secret, he promptly defected to Melanie Baine's program, setting tongues wagging throughout the field. But when Shafer disappears from the conference at which he's scheduled to use his find to deliver the knockout blow to David Pierce's theory of hominid evolution, those tongues move into high gear, peoples speculations laced with malicious delight. The only news that could possibly be better than Shafer gone is Shafer dead, and Durant obligingly stages the discovery of his remains in a sequence that evokes all his colleagues' most painstaking professional skills. Apart from the paleoanthropological gossip, though, there's little sustained human interest in researcher Durant's debut, as shapeless subplots and fictionalized local color compete only too successfully for the attention that might have gone to the mystery of who killed Shafer. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.