Steven Kuehn and Sarah Wisseman

For the third installment in my local mystery writers’ series, I’m pleased to introduce you to two archaeologist/mystery writers: Steven Kuehn and Sarah Wisseman. Steve lives in Mahomet, Illinois. The opening of his novel Sunken Dreams reminds us of what archaeology and mystery writers have in common:

“Archaeology, more than anything else, is like putting together a puzzle with missing pieces and only a vague idea of what the picture is supposed to look like.”
Professor Jacob Caine paused to let his words sink in. He surveyed the classroom for evidence of interest, confusion, or boredom in the faces of his undergraduate seminar students. Every seat was occupied, a typical occurrence during the last few classes before finals week. Some of the students showed signs of life, which he found encouraging.
“I know I’ve said this more than once since class began, but with all the specifics we’ve covered on different sites, pottery and point types, stages and phases, and every other aspect of North American prehistory, I think it’s a good idea to take a step back and envision how the pieces mesh together. If you want to see it in a more dramatic light, picture yourselves as history detectives, solving mysteries with relatively few clues, lots of misleading information, and no way of knowing if you’ve solved the case when you’re done. After all, none of the people we study are around any longer to confess. Pretty impressive work for a bunch of oddball archaeologists who study dead people’s garbage for a living.”

Sarah Wisseman has the same archaeologist’s nose for a good detective story, but in her novel Burnt Siena, she ventures into the Italian art world, where possible forgeries, antiquity-smuggling, and a surprising murder create the backdrop for her story. Sarah lives in Champaign. Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter:

A finger of unease touched Flora when she found the door of their fourth-floor walkup slightly ajar. This was hardly unusual, she told herself. Ernst hardly ever locked the front door. He’d gone out for cigarettes and not even bothered to close it. Ernst would be back soon and they could share the leftover garlic noodles.
“Ernst?” Flora called as she pushed the door open and dropped her bag on a chair. “Are you home?”
Their domain looked scruffy at best, festooned with the discarded clothing, shoes, and used glasses and ashtrays of three expat twenty-somethings who weren’t quite domesticated yet.
She passed the tiny bathroom . . . and pulled pasta, salad fixings, and the dregs of a quart of milk out of their pint-sized fridge. The shutters were still closed over the unscreened window . . . Flora pushed them open to let in a little daylight.
Holding her breath as she lit the antique gas stove, she braced herself for the expected whoosh of flame and slapped a secondhand aluminum pot over the burner.
Garlic pasta, fresh tomatoes, and fresh basil . . . yum. Flora crossed into Ernst’s room to get the basil. He’d scored the only balcony, but they all shared it when he wasn’t sleeping, and it made a dandy place for a small box garden overlooking the alley.
She reached out to grab the freshest leaves of the green herb outside the railing, her gaze taking in the neighbor’s matching balcony and the quiet alley below.
Quiet, but not empty.
The bile rose in her throat and her knees buckled.
A body lay face down on the paving stones. Brown curly hair, long legs clad in shorts, and Birkenstock sandals. A sinister pool of dark liquid near the head.
Her roommate and secret crush, Ernst Mann.

Both Steven Kuehn’s Sunken Dreams and Sarah Wisseman’s Burnt Siena were published by Five Star Cengage Press. You can find Steven Kuehn at and Sarah Wisseman at