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The Caves of Perigord    by Martin Walker order for
Caves of Perigord
by Martin Walker
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2002 (2002)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by G. Hall

The Caves of Perigord provides a satisfactory alternative for fans of prehistoric adventure who were sorely disappointed by Jean Auel's recent Shelters of Stone. Walker draws the reader into the story right from the beginning when a British Major Manners arrives at Lydia Dean's London auction house with a mysterious fragment of stone painted with a bull's head. Lydia can hardly believe it, but the painting looks very much like those done at Lascaux in France's Perigord region 17,0000 years ago. The exciting news has barely filtered out to the museum and media worlds, when the painting is stolen.

At this point, Walker begins what, in less skillful hands, would be a disaster. He moves the narrative back and forth among three time periods: the present with Lydia and the attractive Manners; the 1940's and Resistance fighters in France who include Manner's father in their number; and the distant past of 15000 BC in the Perigord region with the Cro-Magon cave painters. Walker however, smoothly segues among the time periods.

It turns out that Manners' father was a British soldier sent to the Perigord to help the Resistance fighters in their efforts against the Nazis, and he appears to have obtained the painted fragment then. But where is the cave where he found it? Lydia and several of her academic colleagues, as well as Manners, travel to the Perigord to search through old Nazi and Resistance records. Anyone who has spent time in the lovely Perigord region along the Dordogne and Vezere rivers will savor this portion of the book.

However, in my opinion the best parts are those set in the distant past. While Jean Auel originally popularized the prehistoric time period and created millions of fans with her descriptions of Paleolithic lifestyles, some find her writing overly verbose. Walker's depictions are more satisfying and very touching. He appears to have done his homework. His descriptions of prehistoric caves and discussion of theories on the cave paintings are nicely done and accurate, without overloading the reader with detail.

The World War II segments prove to be the least enjoyable unless one is a real war buff, or enjoys reading about Nazi atrocities perpetrated on villagers who aided the Resistance. All in all though, most readers will find The Caves of Perigord both an entertaining adventure and a well-done picture of what life might have been like when the famous Lascaux and other prehistoric caves were painted.

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