Book Review: A Fly Has a Hundred Eyes by Aileen Baron—and a Giveaway

A Fly Has a Hundred EyesA Fly Has a Hundred Eyes
A Lily Sampson Mystery
Aileen Baron
Aileen Baron, September 2013
ISBN 978-0-578-12887-0

From the author—

In the summer of 1938, Jerusalem is in chaos and the atmosphere teems with intrigue. Terrorists roam the countryside. The British are losing control of Palestine as Europe nervously teeters on the brink of World War II.

Against this backdrop of international tensions, Lily Sampson, an American graduate student, is involved in a dig—an important excavation directed by the eminent British archaeologist, Geoffrey Eastbourne, who is murdered on his way to the opening of the Rockefeller Museum. Artifacts from the dig are also missing, one of which is a beautiful blue glass amphoriskos (a vial about three and a half inches long) which Lily herself had excavated. Upset by this loss, she searches for the vial—enlisting the help of the military attaché of the American consulate.

But when she contacts the British police, they seem evasive and offputting—unable or unwilling either to find the murderer or to look into the theft of the amphoriskos. Lily realizes that she will get no help from them and sets out on her own to find the vial. When she finds the victim’s journal in her tent, she assumes he had left it for her because he feared for his life.

Lily’s adventurous search for information about the murder and the theft of the amphoriskos lead into a labyrinth of danger and intrigue.

In today’s uneasy world, we’ve become so edgy about the threat of terrorism that we sometimes forget this is not a new thing. Terrorism has been going on as long as humans have been around and no place in the world is as subject to it as the Middle East. Prior to World War II, the trouble between Arabs, Jews and the British grew exponentially, even before the Partition, and the encroaching war helped feed the beast.

It is this environment that is the climate for A Fly Has a Hundred Eyes in which we meet Lily Sampson, a young American archaeologist working on a dig in 1938 Jerusalem. It’s not easy for a woman to work in this profession but Lily has found a place with Geoffrey Eastbourne, the well-known and not always liked head of the excavation. His murder, although shocking, doesn’t seem to attract much attention from the British police but others begin to show much interest in Lily. Some of this interest seems to be concern for her well-being but there are also hints of dark forces, of pressure to spy for the government—or is it for some other element?

Lily is in possession of documents that seem to imply that Eastbourne was involved in much more than an archaeological dig and the behavior and sly warnings of some of the locals, Avi and Jamal in particular, lead her to seek answers on her own. She wants to know what happened to her mentor but a missing artifact also means a great deal to her. Her efforts to get to the bottom of things may  endanger her far more than she expects, especially with the threat of Nazi involvement, but she is also in danger from the ever-increasing bombings and other terrorist acts stemming from the strife among the local populace.

If you think this may be sounding a little familiar, it’s possible you’ve read it before as this is a re-issue of a 2002 novel. Ms. Baron’s story is just as relevant today as it was then and her prose is set apart by her flowing descriptions of the land and its people as well as the time. We would do well to pay attention to what was happening in Jerusalem in 1938 because it surely has bearing on today’s events.

A Fly has a Hundred Eyes won first place in the historical mystery novel category at both the Pikes Peak and Southwest Writers Conferences in 2000 before it was published and those awards were well-deserved. I think I’ll go track down the next Lily Sampson mystery.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2014.

An Excerpt

Later, Lily would remember the early morning quiet, the shuttered shops in the narrow lanes of the Old City. She would remember that few people were in the streets — bearded Hassidim in fur-trimmed hats and prayer shawls over long black cloaks returning from morning prayer at the Wailing Wall; an occasional shopkeeper sweeping worn cobbles still damp with dew.

She would remember the empty bazaar, remember that the peddler who usually sold round Greek bread from his cart near Jaffa Gate was gone.

She would remember the crowd of young Arabs, their heads covered with checkered black and white kefiyas, waiting in the shade of the Grand New Hotel, leaning against the façade, sitting on window ledges near the entrance; remember them crowded under Jaffa Gate in a space barely wide enough to drive through with a cart, standing beneath the medieval arches and crenellated ramparts, faces glum, arms crossed against their chests, rifles slung across their backs, revolvers jammed into their belts. One wore a Bedouin knife, its tin scabbard encrusted with bright bits of broken glass. Only their eyes moved as they watched her pass. Lily remembered holding her breath, pushing her way through, feeling their body heat, snaking this way and that to avoid touching the damp sweat on their clothing. No one stepped out of her way.

She would remember the bright Jerusalem air, fresh with the smell of pines and coffee and the faint tang of sheep from the fields near the city wall; the empty fruit market, usually crowded with loaded camels and donkey carts and turbaned fellahin unloading produce, deserted and silent. Vendor’s stalls, looking like boarded shops on a forlorn winter boardwalk, shut; cabs and carriages gone from the taxi stand.

She would remember the pool at the YMCA, warm as tea and green with algae, and the ladies gliding slowly through the water, wearing shower caps and corsets under their bathing suits, scooping water onto their ample bosoms, gathering to gossip at the shallow end. She would remember swimming around them with steady strokes, her legs kicking rhythmically, and the terrible tempered Mrs. Klein, blowing like a whale, ordering Lily to stop splashing. A tiny lady holding onto the side of the pool and dunking herself up and down like a tea bag nodded in agreement; Elsa Stern, the little round pediatrician with curly gray hair, gave Lily a conspiratorial wink and kept swimming laps.

She would remember it all. Everything about that day would haunt her.

About the Author

Aileen BaronAileen G. Baron has spent her life unearthing the treasures and secrets left behind by previous civilizations. Her pursuit of the ancient has taken her to distant countries—Israel, Turkey, Jordan, Greece, Britain, China and the Yucatan—and to some surprising California destinations, like Newport Beach, California and the Mojave Desert.

She taught for twenty years in the Department of Anthropology at California State University, Fullerton, and has conducted many years of fieldwork in the Middle East, including a year at the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem as an NEH scholar and director of the overseas campus of California State Universities at the Hebrew University. She holds degrees from several universities, including the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California, Riverside.

The first book in the Lily Sampson series, A FLY HAS A HUNDRED EYES, about the murder of a British archaeologist in 1938 in British mandated Palestine, won first place in the mystery category at both the Pikes Peak Writers conference and the SouthWest Writers Conference. THE TORCH OF TANGIER, the second novel in the Lily Sampson series, takes place in Morocco during WW II, when Lily is recruited into the OSS to work on the preparations for the Allied invasion of North Africa, Operation Torch. In THE SCORPION’S BITE, Lily is doing an archaeological survey of Trans-Jordan for the OSS.

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A Fly has a Hundred Eyes by Aileen Baron,
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