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The Magyar Venus    by Lyn Hamilton order for
Magyar Venus
by Lyn Hamilton
Order:  USA  Can
Prime Crime, 2004 (2004)
* *   Reviewed by G. Hall

Lyn Hamilton's 8th archaeological mystery sends sleuth Lara McClintoch to Budapest for an entertaining adventure. Lara is a middle-aged Toronto antiques dealer whose work takes her all around the world - Peru, Malta, Thailand, Tuscany and Morocco in previous books. The setting is always the best part of a Hamilton book as she brings each destination to life. This time, it's easy to visualize the hillside Buda and the flat Pest joined picturesquely by the Danube River. One also gets a feel for how Hungarian life has changed post Iron Curtain.

The story starts in Toronto when Lara is asked to join a group of former college roommates (nicknamed the Dovercourt Divas after their old apartment house) at the opening of a new museum exhibit, featuring a Paleolithic Venus figurine and the long-lost diaries of the Victorian traveler who discovered them. Archaeologists have found several ivory female figurines featuring the heads and torsos of women with prominent breasts and stomachs, which may be fertility symbols. Hamilton adds her fictional figurine to this real group, which is thought to date to at least 25,000 years ago. Once at the exhibit, Lara discovers that the museum director is an old college lover, Karoly Molnar, whose family emigrated to Canada after the Soviets invaded Hungary in 1956. She is pulled into a web of intrigue involving the Divas and Karoly, after one of the group dies suspiciously, falling from a bridge.

It turns out that many, if not all, of the Divas have links to Karoly and the dead woman. There are also questions as to the authenticity of the Magyar Venus. Then Lara finds herself re-kindling the old romance with Karoly. But can she trust him? And what caused Anna's death - was it suicide or murder? Lara decides to go to Budapest to track down the source of the Venus and the diaries. Soon she is joined by several of the Divas and then Karoly. She seeks out the supposed seller of the Venus, who refuses to give her any information. When she travels to the hill country outside Budapest to find the cave where the figurine was found, the seller follows her and then falls to his death near the cave. Poor Lara does not know whom to trust and is not convinced that 'her antenna for deceit was working as well as it should'.

Hamilton's books often include sections where the narrative travels back to the past, sometimes to mythical or spiritual characters linked to the modern story. In some books this is jarring. However, it works well this time, since here the past narrative is comprised of sections from the diaries of the Venus's discovery. They read well and provide an interesting picture of London and Hungary around 1900. All in all, The Magyar Venus is the best recent book in the series. The plot hangs together nicely, and the description of paleoanthropology a hundred years ago (when it was still practiced by amateurs) is fascinating. I am eager to see where Hamilton will take Lara in her next book.

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