Summer of the Dragon, Elizabeth Peters
I have been a fan of Elizabeth Peters' books for many years now. I started with her series featuring Victorian archaeologists Amelia and Radcliffe Emerson. While exploring and excavating in Egypt, the Emersons are drawn into investigating various crimes, often related to the theft of antiquities. Over the course of the series, which now includes 19 books, I have learned more than a little about ancient Egypt and modern archaeology. Elizabeth Peters herself has a Ph.D. in Egyptology from the University of Chicago and has written a book on Egyptian history under her own name, Barbara Mertz (Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphs).
Summer of the Dragon is set in her familiar field of archaeology, but in a new location: Arizona. D.J. Abbott, a grad student in anthropology, needs a summer internship so she doesn't have to spend the summer with her loving but crazy parents. She accepts a vaguely-worded offer from Hank Hunnicutt, a self-made multi-billionaire, famous for pouring money into crackpot ideas like the search for UFOs. He claims to have made a sensational discovery near his Arizona ranch, and he needs assistance in bringing it to light. When D.J. arrives as his palatial estate (somewhere around Flagstaff), she discovers a crowd of guests, many with their own crackpot theories (Atlantis, past-life regressions, alien abductions) that they are hoping Hank will fund. Some are true believers, others are clearly con artists. Peters has a lot of fun with the crowd, pointing out the absurdities and inconsistencies in their theories.
At the ranch D.J. also discovers two tall, dark & handsome young men, one Hank's assistant (and an archaeologist in his own right), the other searching for lost gold mines. One woos her, the other spars with her at every turn. If you've read enough Elizabeth Peters, it's pretty clear who the hero is going to be. I was never completely sure about the villain, though, because there is such a cast of suspects. Whatever Hank has discovered out in the desert, it is making someone nervous. Then Hank himself disappears. Has he been kidnapped? The police don't think so, but D.J. and the saner members of the party head out into the desert to find him - though "sane" doesn't necessarily mean "innocent."
As with the Emerson books, Peters introduces history and archaeology without overwhelming the story. This was a fun, fast Sunday-afternoon read, though I don't think D.J. would make it through an internship with Amelia and Emerson in Egypt. I also enjoyed the Arizona setting. Peters clearly loves the austere beauty of the desert, whether in Egypt or America, and there are some almost lyrical descriptions of mountains and canyons, and the effects of light and space.