Reviews and updates from Amber Foxx, author of the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery Series
Neanderthals, in this original and fast-moving tale, live in small bands led by an elected female chief. They have abilities we lack, traits that author Kaye George imagined as possibilities due to their larger brain size. She handles this fictional world with such deftness, I immediately fell into the rhythm of the characters’ “thought-speak” and accepted her well-researched speculations about the lives of our very ancient ancestors. * George believably creates her fictional tribe’s culture, customs, religion, language and the sagas their story-teller uses to give meaning to crucial moments in the life of the struggling band.
In the Hamapa tribe, women are considered the only ones patient enough to be spear-throwing hunters. Considering the powerful build of Neanderthals, I can easily imagine the women having this skill. I occasionally marveled at some of the physical feats the characters achieve, but then, I remembered: they’re Neanderthals. They are stronger than us. Not only were their brains were different from ours, so were their bodies.
The tension of the story depends as much on the challenges of hunter-gatherer life in an encroaching ice age where giant mammals roam as it does on solving the murder of a cherished leader in a close-knit community. I say this as a compliment: this book doesn’t stick to the formula for a murder mystery in a setting where to do so would be unrealistic. Enga Dancing Flower, the protagonist—like most of the young women of her tribe—is a hunter. Her patience and skill help her solve the mystery. If you like strong female leads, you can’t find one stronger. One of the things I loved about this book is that the characters are free from confining gender roles as we know them.
Death in the Time of Ice could be enjoyed as historical fiction by readers who aren’t normally mystery fans. I read both genres, and this book succeeds as an innovative blend. It didn’t feel like a whodunnit in mammoth skins, but like a genuine and natural story for its setting. Understandably, it takes the author years to research and create a new book in this series, so there is only one other so far, Death on the Trek. I bought it the day I finished this one and am definitely going to read it.
* Neanderthals are not everyone’s ancestors. Asians and Europeans have 1% to 4% Neanderthal DNA. Indigenous sub-Saharan Africans don’t. Modern humans apparently migrated out of Africa and met Neanderthals and made babies with them. It’s possible this is how Neanderthals “died out.” They gradually blended into the general hominid population.