The Tomb of Zeus (Laetitia Talbot Series #1)

The Tomb of Zeus (Laetitia Talbot Series #1)

by Barbara Cleverly


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With the same flawless storytelling that earned her the CWA Historical Dagger Award, Barbara Cleverly delivers a dazzling new novel. Sweeping us to the exotic island of Crete in 1928, Cleverly introduces a marvelous new heroine: whip-smart and spirited Laetitia Talbot, an aspiring archaeologist with a passion for adventure–and for the mysteries that only the keenest eyes can see.

Born into a background of British privilege, Laetitia Talbot has been raised to believe there is no field in which she may not excel. She has chosen a career in the male-dominated world of archaeology, but she approaches her first assignment in Crete the only way she knows how–with dash and enthusiasm. Until she enters the Villa Europa, where something is clearly utterly amiss…

Her host, a charismatic archaeologist, is racing to dig up the fabled island’s next great treasure–even, perhaps, the tomb of the King of the Gods, himself. But then a beautiful young woman is found hanged and a golden youth drives his Bugatti over a cliff. From out of the shadows come whispers of past loves, past jealousies, and ancient myths that sound an eerie discord with present events. Letty will need all her determination and knowledge to unravel the secrets beneath the Villa Europa’s roof–and they will lead her into the darkest, most terrifying place of all….

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385339902
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/30/2007
Series: Laetitia Talbot Series , #1
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 427,019
Product dimensions: 5.16(w) x 8.23(h) x 0.81(d)

About the Author

Barbara Cleverly is the author of five novels of historical suspense, including The Damascened Blade, winner of the CWA Historical Dagger Award, The Last Kashmiri Rose, Ragtime in Simla, The Palace Tiger, and The Bee’s Kiss. She lives in Cambridge, England where she is now at work on the second Laetitia Talbot mystery, which Delta will publish in 2008.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Herakleion, Crete. March 1928

Miss Talbot! Wait!"

Laetitia Talbot staggered on. She didn't glance back to discover who was calling her name. An abrupt turn of the head would have aggravated the seasickness that racked her; would have made her lose her balance on the slippery deck—might even have provoked a further stomach-wrenching attack of the unproductive retching that had tormented her for a good six hours.

There filtered, through her discomfort, the puzzling thought that she knew no one on the ferry. The only man on the boat who was aware of her existence was the Greek captain and he was unlikely to be chasing after a passenger, fully occupied as he was at the controls in this unexpected squall.

She corrected herself: mad March gale. She corrected herself again: fully blown Greek storm, stirred up personally by Poseidon with his disgusting seaweed-dripping trident. So who would be calling out her name with such confidence? Perhaps she'd failed to notice an acquaintance in her circuits of the deck? She winced at the thought of holding up her end of the conversation that might ensue if she turned around: ". . . Three summers ago . . . at Binkie's coming-out do . . . surely you remember?

You've been in Athens? But why? What on earth can you have been doing there, Letty?"

"Laetitia Talbot?" The English voice came again. Less peremptory. More uncertain. But closer.

Letty sighed and stood still, grasping the metal strut of a lifeboat housing and waited for her pursuer to draw level. A moment later a hand grasped her firmly by her free arm and tucked it under his own. This would have been an unforgivably intimate gesture under normal circumstances, and Letty would have shrugged it off with a sharp comment, but normality, she'd discovered, was suspended on ferryboats. She found she was glad of the unexpected support, and the touch of the rough Scottish tweed jacket was reassuring.

The stranger held out the book she'd carried up on deck with her that morning in a futile attempt at distraction from the horrors of the sea-crossing to Crete.

"You dropped this in a puddle," he said, eyes narrowed against the wind, white teeth gleaming in a friendly grin. Good lord! The man appeared to be relishing the storm. His wet hair was plastered to his skull and seawater dripped from his nose, chin, and eyebrows, but no adverse weather conditions, Letty decided, could detract from the nobility of this young man's jutting features.

She focused woozily on her battered copy of Persuasion.

"I do apologise," she managed to reply politely through gritted teeth, "but I don't believe I know you?"

"You're quite right. We've never met," he admitted cheerfully.

"Then how . . .?"

"I opened your book and read the name on the front page. So—unless you've stolen this, you are the Laetitia Talbot who received it as a prize in the . . . what did it say? . . ." He flicked the volume open and read in a magisterial tone: "Good Conduct Award—Most Improved Pupil, at the Cambridge Academy for Girls in 1919. 'Improved,' eh? One is bound to speculate as to the less-than-perfect state of affairs that preceded the improvement. So, Miss Talbot, you must forgive me for saying—I feel I know who you are!"

He pressed on before she could protest: "A Sprightly Girl but a Romantic who has matured sufficiently to become an ardent reader of the divine Jane's ripest work—I'm judging by the general dog-eared condition of the book. A volume now rendered quite unreadable by Cretan seawater. I'm hoping you'll reject it with a gesture and say I may keep it. I've never actually read Persuasion, and I hear such good things . . ."

Amused by the teasing formality and enchanted by the striking good looks, Letty smiled for the first time in a very long day. "You may keep it . . . Mr. . . . er . . . Look—shall we consider ourselves introduced by the agency of the prescient Miss Austen?"

"Splendid! I think she'd be amused. And that's the way I shall tell it if anyone asks. My name's Charles St. George Russell. My father is Theodore Russell. At present resident in Herakleion."

He enjoyed her surprise at his announcement and the recognition of his name. "Yes, Laetitia, that Russell. And I'm guessing you are the Miss Talbot who is to be our guest at the Villa Europa . . . if we ever make it into port . . ."

"Gosh! How do you do? You'll have to excuse my trembling—I've never met a saint before."

"Friends just call me George," he answered easily. "I was born on the twenty-third of April so—naturally—named after the patron saint of Cretan shepherds. But we weren't expecting you until next week, Miss Talbot, surely? Do I have that wrong? Look here—I'm about to have a most spectacular motorcar unloaded. It's had quite a journey from Paris via Marseille and Athens, and when we arrive I shall have to spend a good hour or so shouting at crane operators while they swing her onto the dock in a net. You're welcome to wait for me while I do this and, assuming I can start her, I'll be delighted to run you up to the villa in splendour and state."

He considered her bedraggled state for a moment, then: "Look here—common sense and courtesy urge me to recommend you turn down my harebrained suggestion and allow me to put you in a taxi.

The city does now boast a taxi."

Letty quickly weighed her options. "I'd be delighted to accept your offer of a lift. In fact, I'll stand by with a screwdriver while you get your motorcar started. I've quite a useful pair of hands," she said, extending them for inspection, wet and shaking with cold. "Oh, dear! Not impressive! I couldn't do up my shoelaces with these! The weather was so clear in Athens—hot, sunny, calm . . . I couldn't wait to get to Crete! I telegraphed your father with my change of plans and took the first ferry of the sailing season. I think even careful old Jason might have thought it safe to venture forth in the last week of March, with or without his Argonauts. And, quite obviously, you didn't mind risking the wrath of Poseidon, Mr. Russell . . . George."

"Nothing is ever predictable in this part of the world, you'll find. I take it this is the first time you've ventured out onto the Aegean, Laetitia? Yes? Well, the first thing you must know is that those coloured postcards you buy in Athens are quite misleading. It's not always an improbably blue sky over a calm, turquoise, mermaid-infested sea. . . ."

She had noticed George Russell earlier. Several times from embarkation onwards her gaze had been drawn to him. A good head taller than herself, he had—remarkably—the same colouring as her own: light complexion darkened by a Mediterranean sun, grey eyes, and fair hair worn rather long. Earlier she had even toyed with the idea of standing close to him at the rail in the distant hope that someone would take them for brother and sister, and a laughing introduction might well have ensued. A friendship could have blossomed under the Greek sun, gazing out over the wine-dark sea, she had thought whimsically.

She had not for once followed her impulses, however, contenting herself instead with admiring him from a distance, embarrassed to meet his eye, edging around him with the odd sideways glance she might have cast at the statue of the naked sea god she'd covertly admired in the Athens museum. And now, thanks to a discarded book, here she was, arm in arm and chatting comfortably with this heroic figure. She wished she could have cut a better dash herself. In her getup, consisting of dripping canvas motoring coat thrown on over shirt and trousers, she surely presented a far from glamorous image. She was conscious of her squelching tennis shoes and, crowning all, the damp fastenings of her brother's old leather flying helmet dangling with inelegant insouciance, dripping water down her neck.

George Russell must have caught her thought or perhaps a betraying twitch of her hand towards the helmet. "It's very becoming!" he assured her. "I took you for a Sylkie—shining round head and enormous eyes . . . you look quite like a wet seal."

"But it was the bristly moustache that really impressed you?"

They laughed together and she allowed him to draw her forward to the prow of the boat. There he braced himself, nose to the wind, looking out eagerly towards the island as they cut their way through the still turbulent waves.

"Ah! The wind's gone about . . . we won't have a problem getting into port," he said. "And here you are, Laetitia—your home for the next season."

Letty stared, speechless, struck dumb by the wild beauty of the scene, wishing she could paint. It would take a Turner, she decided, to record on canvas the unearthly quality of the slanting light piercing through the storm clouds now fleeing, ragged, before the wind; to choose just the colours to conjure up the intermingling of sea, sky, and spray: Tyrian purple, jade, steel grey, and flashing silver. In the far distance, beyond the huddle of the Venetian harbour, adding the element of earth to the kaleidoscope, sprawled a range of mountains, their summits, still snow-covered, catching the sun and lighting up white as swans' wings.

They gazed on in companionable silence, not even attempting by an exclamation to comment on the lavish display. When Laetitia found her voice, she was mortified to hear the flat, Baedeker tone of her comment: "We're much closer than I had expected," she said. "I can make out Herakleion clearly now."

"Herakleion? Ah, yes. Forgive me. I always think of it by its old name. Candia."

Laetitia felt herself corrected and, in a strange way, excluded from his communion with the old seaport. "You'll find the town very foreign," he went on. "By that I mean—very un-Greek. It carries the stamp of centuries of conquerors—Venetian . . . Turkish . . . There's the fortress guarding the harbour entrance. The ferry must go a little farther beyond the harbour—it's too small to take larger vessels. And those high arched structures just beyond the inner docks, do you see them? . . . The Venetian arsenal. The boatyards."

She looked and admired the cluster of white, red-roofed houses crammed in picturesque disorder within the fortifications. But her eye was drawn beyond, caught by a shape looming between the town and a farther, higher mountain range. "George—tell me—what is that hill—mountain?—the one with the extraordinary shape over there?" She pointed.

"Ah! That's Mount Juktas. The mountain sacred to the king of the gods, to Zeus. He was born here on Crete, you know. In a cave on Mount Dicte. I must take you to call on him. Can you ride a donkey?"

Letty smiled to hear him speak so familiarly about the deity who was clearly on his calling list, a valued acquaintance.

"Now keep your eyes fixed on old Juktas," he continued. "I want you to turn your head slightly sideways, Laetitia . . . No, like this . . ." He put a gentle hand under her chin. "Look again at the shape of the mountain and tell me what you see. Here comes the sun, on cue! It's beautifully backlit! You must see it!"

Letty gasped. "Yes, I do! I can see a silhouette. The outline of a man . . . or is he a god? Look—he's lying down . . . his head's over there." She laughed in delight. "He has a jutting beard . . . like an Achaean warrior!"

George Russell smiled and nodded. "And, of course, as you've guessed—that's Zeus himself. Laid out on a marble slab, perhaps? Dead, at any rate. It's said his tomb lies somewhere at the foot of the mountain."

"His tomb? George, what are you saying? Zeus is an immortal god and the gods don't die!"

"If they can be born, they can surely die?" He shivered and put up the collar of his jacket. "It's a beautiful but blood-soaked soil you're about to step onto, Laetitia Talbot. On Crete, even the gods may die."

Chapter Two

The light was beginning to fail and oil lamps were being lit in the houses as they threaded their way, headlights blazing, horn honking, scattering alarmed men and beasts off the road before them.

"They haven't seen a Bugatti two-seater sports-tourer before, I'd guess," Letty shouted over the motor's roar. "Not sure I have myself, I now confess. Certainly never ridden in one."

"Really? But you seemed to know your way about the engine!"

"I think they're all pretty much alike. Carburettors all seem to flood in the same way. I say, the next bit looks rather narrow . . . are you sure about this?"

"I know these alleyways to the inch. Built with enough room for two laden mules to pass each other. I chose the smallest, toughest car I could find. We should scrape through. Curses! That wasn't there last time! Excuse me a moment."

Leaving the car idling, George Russell climbed out and in fluent Greek apologised to the wizened lady whose display of oranges he had knocked over, gathering them back up into a pile and passing her a coin or two. He paused to exchange news with her, said something that made her roll about in a fit of giggling, then dallied longer to pay court to her ginger cat when it came to twine about his ankles. Through her impatience to be off, Letty noticed that the woman, clothed from head to foot in black, smiled at him as though he'd done her a great kindness, and when Letty turned her head as they started up again, it was to see her, still beaming, making a blessing sign after George's retreating back.

"Here you are, Laetitia," he said, tossing a large orange onto her lap. "Your first! The orange and lemon harvest has just started."

"I've never seen one with its leaves on, freshly tugged from the tree!" she exclaimed, delighted with the simple gift. She dug her fingernails into the rough skin and inhaled the scented oils that burst from it. "Delicious! I shall have it for breakfast."

"Breakfast! I don't know what you've become accustomed to in Athens but don't expect the typical British spread, will you? My father takes quite a pride in living a Cretan life. He keeps a Cretan cook, too. Breakfasts tend to be a bit sketchy at the Villa Europa. It'll be homemade yogurt, delicious bread, fruit, of course, and I can promise that the coffee will be good. That's one habit Father won't give up easily. Only a few more yards to go. It's the rather grand house on the corner."

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Tomb of Zeus (Laetitia Talbot Series #1) 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
cbl_tn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I bought this book because I had read and enjoyed several of the author's Joe Sandilands books set in India in the 1920s. I was attracted to this new series by its archaeological aspects and its setting on the Greek island of Crete. While The Tomb of Zeus does have a strong sense of place, it has too many weaknesses for me to find much pleasure in reading it.All of the characters who were supposed to be archaeologists were actually dilettantes who, nevertheless, were able to survey a site and within minutes pick a spot to dig that would yield a major find. Once they found this promising spot, they were able to uncover the architectural ruins within a day or two. I know enough about archaeology to realize that this is simply implausible.There's a lot of dialogue in the book, and it's mostly unnatural. The characters speak in paragraphs where a sentence or two would do, and the syntax is awkward. People don't talk that way now, and I've read enough books written in the time period in which this book is set to know that people didn't talk that way then, either.The cover calls this "a Laetitia Talbot mystery", yet Letty isn't the crime solver in the book. She's more like Hastings to the local policeman's Poirot. She provided some useful information and insights, but the policeman didn't need Letty's help to connect all the dots.Finally, this seems to be a book in search of a genre. Romantic suspense? Historical mystery? Adventure novel? English country house mystery? At times it resembled them all. If I had to pick one, I'd say it is most like an English country house mystery, despite its Greek setting.If this had been my first exposure to Barbara Cleverly's writing, I never would have picked up another of her books. For a better example of her writing, I recommend my favorite of her Joe Sandilands novels, The Damascened Blade.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1927 wealthy Laetitia Talbot comes to Crete to sponsor a dig. Famous archeologist Theo Russell directs the patron to the Mountain of Juktas to a location he already selected where he believes THE TOMB OF ZEUS is buried. Laetitia takes an instant dislike to the pushy man, but adores his wife Phoebe.------------- Before going to the village of Kastelli where the team will be based for the dig, Phoebe escorts Laetitia to the ruins of Knosses where her new friend suffers a fainting spell and is brought back to her villa. There are sores all over Phoebe¿s legs that Laetitia believes come from wearing tight boots. Shortly afterward Phoebe is found dead in her room an apparent suicide. Laetitia does not believe the woman killed herself, especially when she learns Phoebe was pregnant but not carrying Theo¿s child. Instead the site patron digs amongst the ruins of lives to uncover the murderous truth.----------------- Readers of historical mysteries and armchair time travelers will thoroughly enjoy this wonderful whodunit. Besides the vivid look at Crete during the golden age of archeology, fans will ponder whether the heroine is wrong as there are few suspects with a motive to kill Phoebe increasingly suicide seems right yet Laetitia stubbornly believes otherwise based on her short time with the woman. Barbara Cleverly explores the culture of Crete in great depth so that her audience can fully visualize what was back in ancient time and what was in 1927-28 an era used as a setting in modern literature for great female sleuths (Phryne Fisher and Maisie Dobbs) and now amateur sleuth fans have one more.--------- Harriet Klausner
Anonymous 14 days ago
Not nearly as good as her other series. The heroine is simplistic and needs the help of male characters to solve the mystery. The romance is typical in plot, uninspired, and not needed. While the male leads in her other series are independent characters the female lead in this book leans heavily on the male characters.... a bit disappointing.
gregory_gwen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Supposedly this was the first in the series, but I kept feeling like there was something that happened before that I didn't know about.
LTFL_JMLS on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Supposedly this was the first in the series, but I kept feeling like there was something that happened before that I didn't know about.
belgrade18 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Anglophilic mystery set in the 1920s about a wealthy, clever young English woman who goes to Crete for her first archaeological dig (which daddy is paying for). She meets the local ex-pat Brits on the Island, most of whom are rather eccentric and have "gone native". A suicide/murder takes place, a sports car goes off a cliff, and some amazing discoveries are made at the dig site. I enjoyed the Classical references, the descriptions of Crete and its people, and the Agatha Christie-style characters and scenes, though she doesn't quite pull off Christie's humor, and her amateur detective Laetitia Baldrich isn't quite as endearing as Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the first book I have read by Cleverly, and I am sorry that I waited so long. The characters are fascinating and well-developed, the setting is well-crafted, and the mystery is intriguing. Plus, it is filled with scenes from Greek and Cretan mythology. Highly recommended to fans of Elizabeth Peters and Lyn Hamilton. -- lyradora
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ares cabin is here ~kelly
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good solid murder mystery with an intriguing new (to me) main charactor. I will probably read #2 in the series.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Unusual setting and a fun feminist detective. I will continue to enjoy this series.
Exotic_TeaLady More than 1 year ago
I gave this book four stars because I thought it started out a bit slow for my taste but I stuck with it and was not disappointed in the end. There wasn't a lot of daring-do which is more toward what I like but there was mayhem and and plenty of drama. Just when I thought I had it all figured out another twist was introduced so it kept me guessing all the way to the end. I enjoy an archeological theme and there was plenty of that to keep me interested as well. I am planning to read the next installment and I am adding this series to my favorites list.