“Burns’ prose is sharp and, at times, poetically melancholic; it also admirably avoids
providing easy answers to the questions it raises. Overall, it’s an exceedingly intelligent
and entertaining novel. A thrilling whodunit and an edifying work of historical fiction.”
The Fourth Sargent/Paget Mystery: Available Now
“Sherlock & Watson meet Indiana Jones!”
This fourth mystery was ignited by the New York Times article of March 28, 2021, in the Culture/Arts section, (“Fake? Or Biblical Gold?”) about Idan Dershowitz’s controversial scholarly paper discussing the long-disputed authenticity of the Shapira Scrolls. These documents, found in desert caves in the ancient land of Moab and brought to light by Moses Shapira in 1873, appeared to be a 3000-year-old original version of Deuteronomy, the book that sets forth the Ten Commandments—only, this version had an extra commandment: Thou shalt not slay the soul of thy brother.
Award-winning journalist Chanan Tigay wrote about his search for the scrolls in his book The Lost Book of Moses in 2014, which presented Shapira’s story in great detail. Many others, before and since, have written non-fiction books, arguing for and against the authenticity of the manuscript fragments.
Trouble is, the scrolls “disappeared” around 1906 and are currently nowhere to be found.
My historical mystery combines the facts of the Shapira case with the fiction of two historical amateur sleuths—the painter John Singer Sargent and the writer Violet Paget (aka Vernon Lee)—becoming embroiled in this perplexing case that literally lands on their doorstep one afternoon in Paris. I have consulted with both Professor Dershowitz and Mr. Tigay (among other scholars and researchers) to ensure the accuracy of my account—at least, the parts that are not pure fiction. The freedom inherent in writing a novel allowed me to bring a deeply human, emotional and compassionate perspective to the complicated person of Moses Shapira, while also writing a suspenseful mystery for John and Violet to pursue.
REVIEWS of The Eleventh Commandment…
The Eleventh Commandment is the fourth of Mary F. Burns’s John Singer Sargent/Violet Paget mysteries. These superbly crafted historical fictions reflect their author’s extensive knowledge of time and place, not to mention the characters in question: the artist Sargent and the author Paget (aka Vernon Lee), both wandering cosmopolites ensconced in the late nineteenth-century European cultural milieu. In this latest installment, Burns draws on the case of the so-called “Shapira scrolls,” an alleged early version of Deuteronomy, discovered by the antiquities dealer Moses Wilhelm Shapira in 1883. The scrolls after their initial dramatic unveiling were judged to be a forgery and Shapira, his reputation in shambles, presumably committed suicide. Burns re-opens the case, and her daring duo, Sargent and Paget, navigate a complicated nest of intrigue, led on by the tantalizing suggestion that the artifacts were authentic. Superbly crafted with cameos by well-known artists and writers of the period, the book is a masterful work of suspense centered around an artifact whose provenance and whereabouts remain mysterious to this day. — Paula Marantz Cohen, Dean, Distinguished Professor of English, Pennoni Honors College, Drexel University and author of What Alice Knew, Jane Austen in Scarsdale, and Of Human Kindness: What Shakespeare Teaches Us about Empathy.
The Eleventh Commandment is an intelligent, fascinating mystery with wonderful scope. Once more we meet our delightful sleuth partners, the painter Sargent (who puts down his paintbrush for enough time to solve the possible murder) and our narrator, his sharp collaborator Violet Paget. The story is set in London, Paris, Rotterdam and Jerusalem as experts quarrel about the authenticity of newly discovered ancient Biblical documents. Based on the rise and fall of the real antiquities dealer Moses Shapira in 1883 (the mystery of his demise and the disappearance of the documents have never been solved), Commandment is a riveting story, quite impossible to put down!” — Stephanie Cowell, author of Marrying Mozart, Claude & Camille, and The Players: A Novel of the Young Shakespeare.
Please use the links on this website on the BOOK LIST page to get directed to the correct edition of any of my books (there have been past editions by other publishers which say “Out of Print”). Thanks!
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