In Olmec Obituary, LJM Owen debuts new detective, Dr Elizabeth Pimms. Dubbed an ‘intermillennial sleuth’, she is a likeable, young, paranoid anthropologist with an eidetic memory. In this book, billed as the first of an as yet unpublished series, Dr Pimms solves a mystery with tentacles stretching back some 3000 years. The plot is at times ingenious and intriguing but in parts it is also, sadly, flawed.
Dr Pimms has the good sense to avail herself of help from friends and family and she also periodically consults with other experts. She shows how much can be learned from the bones of the long dead and from the comparison of teeth. And all her detecting is part-time as she simultaneously strives to earn a living as a librarian.
Along the way, the reader learns something of the work of an anthropologist and is treated to a feast of information about the functioning of a grand library. The author, like her protagonist, has Scottish, Welsh and Spanish ancestors and a love of their languages and food. So, as a bonus, there are a few delightful recipes included.
Refreshingly, there are no car chases, no raids with guns drawn, no lurid sex scenes. The chase for the truth is an intellectual one; the hunt is for facts, not fabrications. But this novel, like the curate’s egg, is good in parts. The characterisation is superficial and the villains are unnecessarily stupid. But even more unfortunate – some important events key to the plot are implausible.
However, a limited edition first run of Olmec Obituary was crowdfunded via Kickstarter in early 2015 and was well received. After all, this book belongs to a genre in which realistic characterisation and flawless logic has not always dented a novel’s popularity.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
By LJM Owen