cover image The Mystery of the Venus Island Fetish

The Mystery of the Venus Island Fetish

Tim Flannery. Minotaur, $24.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-07942-8

Australian scientist Flannery (An Explorer’s Notebook: Essays on Life, History, and Climate) makes his fiction debut with a droll mystery set in 1932 that purports to be a manuscript found in a stuffed baboon. The Great Venus Island Fetish, “the most famous Pacific Islands artifact in the world” (which consists of a monstrous mask surrounded by 32 human skulls), is on display in a Sydney museum, where curator Archibald Meek returns after several years among the Venus Islands natives. To his dismay, Meek discovers that his fiancée, Beatrice, has rejected the love token he sent her made from his foreskin; that four of the skulls in the fetish have been altered; and that four curators have recently gone missing, with a fifth soon to die. Full of petty academic squabbling, quirky personalities, heavy drinking, and secrets and gossip, the plot plays out against a background of supercilious exoticizing of island people. You don’t have to be a museum insider to enjoy the fun Flannery pokes at anthropologists of an earlier era. (Feb.)