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Shell Game: A Professor Simon Shaw Mystery    by Sarah R. Shaber order for
Shell Game
by Sarah R. Shaber
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2007 (2007)
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

The controversy in Sarah R. Shaber's Shell Game begins after archeologists have discovered what appears to be a 14,000 year old skeleton in North Carolina. As the earliest paleo-Indian find in the region, the so-called Uwharrie Man instantly becomes provocative proof of human origins in North America.

However, with the bones now resting (not in peace) in the custody of the state, local native Americans are pressuring to have the bones of their presumptive ancestor reburied on tribal land. As powerful forces (government officials, academic researchers, and Native Americans) have lined up on the various sides of the issue, the controversy takes a dark and dangerous turn: the state archeologist, David Morgan, is murdered.

Morgan's close friend, Professor Simon Shaw of Kenan College (Raleigh) immediately becomes involved in the murder investigation. As a friend of Detective Sergeant Otis Gates, Morgan has helped out in the past (in his capacity as forensic historian), especially in helping the police solve a very cold 1926 murder case.

Now, as the investigation into the Morgan case begins to unfold, Gates confidently points out that 'murders are personal, about sex, money, power.' But, as Shaw responds, 'Morgan had no money and very little sex.' So what could have been the motive for his friend's murder? Perhaps it was Morgan's professional connection to the Uwharrie Man controversy.

Quicker than you can say 'personable protagonist with a knack for investigations,' Shaw is totally immersed in his single-minded pursuit of Morgan's killer. Following a slender thread of clues through a labyrinth populated by academics, politicians, and relatives, Shaw - endangering himself and others through his dogged pursuit of the murderer(s) - finally exposes the surprising and wretched truth behind his friend Morgan's brutal and senseless murder.

Entertaining and clever, lively and suspenseful, Shell Game mixes plenty of regional history, archeological details, and compelling characterizations. This tale of murder and duplicity will appeal to anyone who enjoys academic cozy mysteries, a light and frothy sub-genre that has become Sarah R. Shaber's specialty.

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