Gerald Middleton is a sixty-year-old retired medievalist. He considers himself a failure: he's estranged from his wife and three kids; his rejected mistress (and the true love of his life) has become a drunk; he was peripherally connected with a fraud perpetrated on Anglo-Saxon archaeology forty years earlier, and it's turned his whole attitude toward the profession despairing and cynical. Maybe it ruined his life.
The complex plot centers around that fraud. In 1913, the tomb of a bishop was excavated, and a priapic pagan statue was found buried with the bishop. Or was it? A year or so later, Middleton's best friend at the time, Gilbert Stokesay, tells Middleton that he had found the statue at a different dig, and just slipped it in to the bishop's tomb. Stokesay's father was the leader of the excavation of the bishop's tomb.
Middleton believes Gilbert Stokesay was telling him the truth, but doesn't know that for sure, and the possibility that history is not truth poisons his whole relationship with the field. Gilbert dies in WWI, and the secret is lost, or at least, becomes more obscure.
Did I say complex? I did. There's a list of 45 characters before the book starts, and that's only the major ones. But it's swift moving, too: their fates will be sorted out in less than 350 pages, and that includes the appendix, a few made up reports about the archaeological investigation, taking up ten pages at the end.
And what this description doesn't so far indicate is, it's funny. It really is.
It came into my library last year, so it counts for My Reader's Block Mount TBR Challenge.