The Gold of Thrace: A Tamar Saticoy Mystery

The Gold of Thrace: A Tamar Saticoy Mystery

by Aileen G Baron
When the first member of the staff at a Turkish excavation is murdered and a mosaic floor disappears from her site overnight, archaeologist Tamar Saticoy plunges into the shady side of the antiquities trade in a quest to discover who is responsible for the theft of important artifacts.
Tamar traces the mosaic floor to Basel, Switzerland, where the captivating


When the first member of the staff at a Turkish excavation is murdered and a mosaic floor disappears from her site overnight, archaeologist Tamar Saticoy plunges into the shady side of the antiquities trade in a quest to discover who is responsible for the theft of important artifacts.
Tamar traces the mosaic floor to Basel, Switzerland, where the captivating prince of antiquities dealers, Gilberto Dela Barcolo, and his enigmatic friend, Enzio Egidio, are active. Are the two men harmless charmers—or villains? Soon Tamar finds her-self enmeshed in a tangle of deceit, theft, and forgery.
Battling smoke and mirrors, she discovers that no one is who he seems. Two more members of the excavation staff are killed: her venal British colleague Chatham, who has discovered a hoard of Thracian gold in Bulgaria, and the Turk Orman who—like Tamar—is following the trail of the stolen mosaic.
Unless she can crack this case, Tamar herself may become the next target for murder.

Editorial Reviews

Book List
“Notorious for deceit and double-dealing, the dubious art and antiquities underground is brought to life by professional archaeologist Baron.” --Booklist
Book Pleasures
“This fast paced adventure is one difficult to put down. Anyone with a passing interest in archeology and ancient history will enjoy this book and its long hard look at the black market of antiquities and the intrigue that surrounds it.” --Book Pleasures
My Shelf
Fans of historical mysteries will love it, as will all mystery fans.” --MyShelf

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Poisoned Pen Press
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Tamar Saticoy Mysteries , #1
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Read an Excerpt

The Gold of Thrace

By Aileen G. Baron

Poisoned Pen Press

Copyright © 2007 Aileen G. Baron
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-61595-264-9

Chapter One

Ephesus, Turkey, August 6, 1990

"I saw it all," the American woman was saying.

She was one of the tourists off the cruise ship. The American woman wore a Greek fisherman's hat, a T-shirt emblazoned with gilt and dark blue anchors, sandals bedecked with plastic flowers, and she was trembling.

She had come to see Ephesus, banking and trading center of the east Mediterranean in Roman times; capital and principal port of the province of Asia; the richest city in the Roman Empire; city of Artemis, the famous Diana of Ephesus, who was barnacled with mammaries from her neck to her waist.

Instead, the American stood next to the body of a man who lay on the mosaic walkway on the Street of the Curetes, where once priests of the beautiful Artemis paraded to the sounds of flutes, drums and cymbals, clashing their swords against their shields, banging their tambourines, flagellating themselves with whips until they bled, whirling and dancing, castrating and mutilating themselves to celebrate the birth of Artemis.

"What did you see?" the detective asked the American woman, his pencil poised over a notebook.

Police cars with flashing lights stood nose to nose in the parking lot amid tour buses.

Policemen herded them all—the Frenchmen with red berets and bandanas behind a guide flourishing a red banner, the Germans with yellow golf caps and shoulder bags and their guide with her yellow pennant—past empty columns over marble streets. They passed the Library of Celsus, designed by the great architect Vitruvius, they passed Trajan's fountain, they passed the Temple of Hadrian, and jostled for space on their way to the buses to take them back to Izmir, to Kusadasi, to Selçuk, to the cruise ships that lay offshore.

"What did you see?" the policeman asked the American woman again.

"He came out of nowhere," the American woman said. "He had something shiny in his hand, a knife. It glinted in the sun."

A few stragglers, camcorders on their shoulders, broke from the crowd and started toward them. A gaggle of Americans emerged, laughing, from the Roman latrine where they had been sitting on the concrete toilets, just as the pilgrims who came for the festival of Artemis had done long ago, just as Ephesians who paused in their morning ablutions to sit for a while and catch up on the latest gossip.

The policemen drove them all back into the throng and it milled past the theater where bulls and manhood were sacrificed for the glory of Artemis, where terrible myths were acted out, where the bulls were slaughtered in sacrifice and the goddess festooned with their testes and dripped with blood, where the Ephesians attacked St. Paul, where they stoned him shouting, "Great is the Artemis of the Ephesians."

The American woman remembered for a moment that they weren't mammaries; they were bull's testicles.

She sighed and rubbed her arms as if she were cold. "He lunged. He had a knife."

"Go on," the detective said, his pen still hovering over the pad.

Policemen steered the swarms of tourists into the parking lot next to the road from the ancient harbor that was once lined with shops and grand public buildings, where visitors would stroll in the shade of a columned portico anticipating the spectacle they came so far to see, stopping at food and wine merchants, stopping at shops where they bought silver statuettes of the beautiful Diana of Ephesus, anticipating the delicious tingle of horror as the attendants of the goddess and her neophytes mutilated themselves in her honor.

"Please," the detective said.

She pointed to the body on the ground. "He dropped silent as a stone."

The American woman closed her eyes and saw him fall again, his blood seeping into the ground where the curetes bled. She began to shudder. Her husband put his arm over her shoulder and she leaned on him.

"What did he look like?" the detective asked.

"The man with the knife?" her husband said. "Thickset, with curly gray hair. He looked like he was sneering."

"Which way did he go?" the detective asked.

"That way," the American woman said and pointed vaguely in the direction of the parking lot.

The detective wrote that in his notebook.

"That way," her husband said and pointed toward Selçuk, toward the Basilica of Saint John on the hill.

The detective wrote that, too, in his notebook. He dispatched two policemen, one to the parking lot, the other to the Basilica of Saint John, and waited to hear from the man who was hurrying down from the Roman houses on the slope.

"Dr. Kosay?" the detective called.

Dr. Kosay was bald, with earnest hazel eyes and a Turkish moustache. He nodded as he ran down the hill. "Atalay Kosay," the man said between puffs of breath. "I could see some of what happened from up above."

The detective turned to a new page in his notebook. "What did you see?"

Kosay looked at the body on the pavement and his face went pale.

"You know him?"

"He was my student. His name is Binali Gul."

"He was working with you here at Ephesus?"

Kosay shook his head. "Not here. He's from the University at Izmir. He was digging at Tepe Hazarken."

"What was he doing here?"

"He came to tell me something. He said it was important."

"What was it?"

"I don't know."

"What did you see?" the detective asked again.

"A thickset man with curly gray hair stabbed Binali. Then he ran off toward the Kusadasi road."

The detective wrote in his notebook that a thickset man with curly gray hair stabbed Binali Gul and ran off in three directions, then signaled for a third policeman.

"We will have to close down Ephesus for a few hours," the policeman told Kosay as sirens began to wail in the museum half a kilometer away.

"Certainly," Kosay said.

The detective spread his hands as if to ask a question and looked at Kosay, but Kosay was watching the woman running toward them from the museum.

"They broke into a case," she told Kosay between gasps of breath. "They stole the golden Kybele."

"The Kybele?" Kosay said. "They stole the Kybele?"

The policeman turned to a new page in his notebook. "Did you see who did it?" he asked the woman.

She shook her head. "Just heard the alarm. By the time I reached the case, the room was empty, the Kybele was gone."

"She wasn't from Ephesus," Kosay said. "The Kybele was on loan, entrusted to me."

"What is a Kybele?" the American woman asked.

"The Goddess," Kosay said. "The Mother Goddess, the oldest, the greatest goddess. She is Anatolia."

Chapter Two

Kilis, Turkey, August 7, 1990

Tamar watched impatiently as the man from Ankara spilled bits of pottery from plastic bags onto a table set up in the shade of an umbrella, watched him sort through the sherds quickly, his hand moving them to the right or left.

They had been at it all morning, the three of them—Tamar Saticoy and Orman Çelibi, co-directors of the excavations at Tepe Hazarfen, and Mustafa Yegin, the man with intense eyes and flowing moustache from the Department of Antiquities at Ankara.

The death of Binali hung over them like a cloud.

Three days ago Tamar had been supervising the excavation of a Roman house on the far side of Tepe Hazarfen, the archaeological site that loomed behind the village of Hazarfen, when she spotted the tessera, a small mosaic tile of pale marble no more than a quarter of an inch on each side. She held it in her hand, thrilled with the excitement of discovery, with pleasurable anticipation of uncovering the mosaic that lay below the dusty field where she stood.

That was the beginning for Tamar. Nothing would be the same after that. Finding it affected everything.

She had stopped her students, some with pickaxes in mid-swing, told them to go slower, to watch for a mosaic floor just below the surface and showed them how to remove the overburden inside the thin interior wall of the room with a flat-nosed shovel. When they had almost reached the floor, she sent them away, afraid that their carelessness would damage the mosaic.

For two days, with only Binali to help her, she cleared the room, first scraping away the dirt with the side of trowels, then by herself with a whiskbroom and finally with a soft rat- tailed brush, until a pattern emerged.

She didn't fully appreciate what she had found until she wiped it clean with water and the tiles sparkled in the sun. She stood back and caught her breath.

The floor had all the complexity of a superb oriental rug—a twisted guilloche around the edge, clusters of lush ripe fruit at the corners. In the center, surrounded by a design of involuted flowered vines, a medallion was adorned with the striking image of a woman—a sloe-eyed enchantress with the grace of a goddess.

Tamar knelt down and traced along the edge of the medallion with her fingers, along the image of the lady—the magnificent arch of her neck, the soft curvature of her cheek, the elegant rosettes of bronze-gold hair that framed her face.

The mosaic was the work of a master.

The lady's turquoise eyes, half-closed, glanced suggestively to the side and her seductive smile seemed poised to break into beguiling speech.

Why is it, Tamar wondered, we always uncover the best finds the last day of the season? She gave a resigned sigh and turned back to the mosaic, hurrying to finish before the light failed.

When they were ready to leave, Orman helped her cover the floor with a tarp. They weighted the tarp down at the sides with stones to protect the mosaic until the next day and the meeting with Mustafa Yegin.

They made their way down the hill, to the van parked near the coffeehouse at the entrance to Hazarfen, past the houses and outbuildings of the village below the site, past the mud-brick walls with the tinder for winter fuel already stacked high against them, got into the van and drove off for the dig house in Kilis.

* * *

And now, she waited as Yegin sorted through the pottery.

Heavy plastic bags filled with artifacts, labeled and ready to be read, lay on the ground. A small collection that she and Orman could take home to the States for analysis was heaped on one side of the table; a larger pile that Yegin was bringing back to Ankara was stacked near his camp chair.

Tamar and Orman were the only ones from Tepe Hazarfen at the division. Everyone else had gone home.

The other director, Andrew Chatham, had left. He intended to stop in Prague to visit his mother, he said, before returning to the British Museum.

Typical, Tamar thought; Chatham always left the dirty work to others, especially in the field.

Chatham would sit, comfortable under an umbrella, flourishing his sunglasses and his cigarette holder, leaning back in his chair, waiting for the workmen to bring him whole pots from tomb after tomb.

According to the agreement with the Turkish government, archaeologists were required to hire local workmen to help with the excavation. Chatham had appropriated every one of them.

He paid the workmen for the pottery. At first he paid them by the piece until he noticed fresh breaks, he told Tamar and Orman at dinner. He was sure that the workers broke up whole pots from the tombs to get more money for each piece, so he was offering a substantial bonus for whole pots.

After that, pottery seemed to erupt from the tombs. Chatham could hardly keep up with the flow of artifacts, had little time to check the drawings and find-spots. Day after day, hour after hour, he was inundated with ceramics, some with a chip missing here and there, some still encrusted with dirt from the tombs.

At dinner, Chatham would wink at Tamar and Orman and tell them that that was the way to dig, not to get your hands dirty, not to bother with students and supervision and lectures.

"It's a fountain of plenty," he told them. "This cemetery shines like a supernova in the constellation of excavations."

His reputation, he told them, was made.

* * *

Tamar watched Mustafa Yegin sort another bag of sherds, repack them, tag the bag with a registration number and mark it for Ankara. He seemed tantalizingly slow and careful as he tagged the bags and tied them. He glanced at Tamar with a questioning look as she tapped her foot and drummed her fingers on the table. His face seemed to wear a perpetual frown, incised into his forehead like a scar, and when he spoke the tone was always ponderous, as if he were importing weighty news.

"Impatient for some reason?" he asked.

"The villa. The mosaic floor."

"All in good time." His voice was low and deliberate. "We'll get to Tepe Hazarfen after lunch."

Mustafa came from Istanbul, according to Chatham. He took courses at Cambridge and worked for a while at the British Museum before he returned to Turkey. Chatham had known him in Istanbul, and recommended him for the job at the British Museum.

By midmorning Mustafa had gotten as far as the special finds: metal, inscribed pieces, whole pots and the material from Chatham's cemetery.

He lifted one of the pots from the cemetery, balanced it in his hand, took a loupe from his pocket, squinted through it, his nose wrinkled in concentration, and shook his head. He tossed most of the pottery into the bin marked for the British Museum.

Tamar picked up one and cautiously licked it with her tongue, giving it a rough and ready test. If it was slick, the pottery was probably modern. If her tongue stuck, it was probably in the ground for a long time, interacting with the surrounding soil. Tiny flakes, too small to be seen by the naked eye, would have spalled off and abraded the exterior, leaving the surface irregular.

"Fake?" she asked.

Mustafa nodded. "It seems so. Somewhere in the village of Hazarfen, there is a pottery workshop that manufactures authentic antiquities to order."

In the end, only twelve pots remained on the table.

"Could be the next village over," Tamar said. "There were always visitors. They brought truckloads filled with what they called gifts. Said they came to arrange marriages. They sat in the coffeehouse next to the school and bargained the whole day."

"Why do you work with Chatham?" Mustafa asked.

Tamar pictured Chatham, imperious and immaculate in the shade, with his pencil-thin blond mustache, an ascot arranged at his neck even on the warmest days. "It's his British charm."

"I heard he was born in Hungary."

"Czechoslovakia," Tamar said. "His name was originally Andor Chaloupek. He fled to London after the Russians came in, changed his name to Andrew Chatham, and now he's more British than the queen."

Mustafa shook his head. "And you dig with an idiot like that?"

She laughed. "It's his good looks." Chatham always dressed the part, with his white linen britches, his riding boots, his safari shirt. "He got us the license to dig the site, helped us get financing. His father-in-law has vitamin P and vitamin M."

"Pull and money?" Mustafa asked.

Tamar nodded and laughed.

Orman shook his head. "Don't defend him. He made advances to one of my students. And once he cornered the cook."

Orman's face seemed to be all points with its fine pointed cheekbones, a delicate pointed nose, and a smile that caught at the corners of his eyes.

Mustafa wrapped the pots on the table, tagged and boxed them, taped them shut and labeled them.

"We've finished here." He smiled at Tamar. "Off to Hazarfen."

"At last," she said.

* * *

They stopped for a brief lunch in Kilis and reached Hazarfen shortly after one o'clock. The drive, a little over eight kilometers, took fifteen minutes. Orman was driving.

He slowed the van as they came to the end of the paved road.

They brushed the dust of the drive from their clothes and trudged through dry grass, crisp against their soles in the hot summer afternoon.

"The mosaic floor is in a Roman villa," Tamar said to Mustafa. "You'll have to decide whether to preserve it in situ or lift it and bring it in to the museum."

"Not much money in our budget."

"We could apply for a grant from the Getty. Or the Volkswagen Foundation."

"Maybe. First let's see it."

She led them over the top of the hill and down the saddle away from the village. "I haven't photographed it yet. We need a photographer with a tower."

Below them, one of the village women, her head covered with a scarf, her dark dress flapping against her ankles in the summer breeze, was laying out wash on the roof of one of the houses. She glanced up at the three of them on the top of the hill and waved. Tamar waved back.

When Tamar first came to Hazarfen three seasons ago, all the villagers were strangers. She had loped through the hamlet and over fallow fields bright with wild tulips and poppies with the trepidation of an outsider. Drawn by the ruins of Greek columns and Roman arches outlined against the bright blue sky on the hill above, she had climbed the narrow alleys between house compounds, skirting the kindling piled against their mud-brick walls, and up to the tel.


Excerpted from The Gold of Thrace by Aileen G. Baron Copyright © 2007 by Aileen G. Baron. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Aileen Baron has a Ph.D. in archaeology and taught for twenty years in the Department of Anthropology at California State University, Fullerton. Her many years of archaeological fieldwork in the Middle East, include 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. Her residence in Switzerland, the hub of the antiquities trade, and her experience in museums has given her an insight into the underside of the trade in ancient art, the focus of her latest mystery, The Gold Of Thrace.

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