Kearsley, Susanna. The Shadowy Horses.

NY: Bantam, 1997.

I read a great deal, in nearly every genre and flavor of fiction, and I strongly disagree with the elitists who insist that certain entire categories of books simply aren’t worth their time. That’s pure snobbery, and it’s generally based on prejudice, not experience. Because a book is either well-written or it isn’t, and while there are plenty of books that I haven’t bothered to finish, and certain authors whose repeated lame attempts I have learned (usually) to avoid, the occasional losers are spread across the whole of literature. There are almost always books in any niche that are worth your time. And this one, a romance novel with a strong psychic flavor, is one of them.

Verity Grey is a trained archaeologist with a specialty in “finds management,” who has left her job at the British Museum out of boredom. Her ex-lover, Adrian Sutton-Clarke, recommends her to the wealthy Peter Quinnell, a once-revered archaeologist whose best work is generally thought to be behind him, because Quinnell is now excavating what he believes is the last marching camp of the “lost” Ninth Legion (the “Hispania,” a real outfit) near the fishing town of Eyemouth, up on the Scottish Borders. The fate of the Ninth is a mania with him and he has even bought the property on which he believes the camp to be located so he will have control over the complete operation.

Peter’s right hand is David Fortune, a Scot who lives nearby with his mother, widely known as a “difficult woman.” Verity is quickly annoyed by Adrian’s jealous possessiveness but she’s also very taken with Davy, who is quite a hunk. Verity is the restless, independent sort, though, and she’s not sure whether to succumb to her feelings or not. But the key to everything is Robbie McMorran, eight-year-old son of Peter’s cook/housekeeper, who has “the Sight.” He knows all about the Sentinel, the Roman soldier who frequently patrols the field where the camp is expected to be found. And the Sentinel, whose ghostly existence everyone (except Adrian) accepts without question, seems to have a special interest in Verity.

The author writes in a nicely controlled, non-mushy style, allowing the romance to grow slowly and believably, but also doing a very good job with the nuts and bolts of the archaeological site. She gets the techniques right and conveys the feel of working the excavation in an entertaining manner, while at the same time making sure the reader understands this ain’t Indiana Jones. The atmospheric little town of Eyemouth also becomes a character in the story, with its rivalries among the fishermen and the Herring Queen festival at midsummer. I’ll be hunting up her next couple of books.


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