"Eve is like a kid with an ant's nest - one of those glass-sided jobs. She knows that if she goes poking round, ordering 'em about, she won't learn much, so she just sits and watches. It's her toy, and she won't let any of the other kids touch it."
As the book featured on this week's podcast, Lament for a Lady Laird, stars an anthropologist by profession, I thought this might be a good time to mention another classic where anthropology and an anthropologist play a central role. The book, The Glass-Sided Ants' Nest, by much-honored British author Peter Dickinson, is being re-released next week in e-book formats from Open Road Media (which provided me with a copy for this review).
The Glass-Sided Ants' Nest, first published in 1968 in the U.K. with the title Skin Deep, was the first of Dickinson's mysteries featuring Superintendent James Pibble. Jimmy Pibble seems to have a talent for solving quirky, unusual cases, and he certainly finds one here. We are presented with the surviving members of a primitive New Guinea tribe, transported to London after most of the tribe was wiped out by a Japanese massacre during World War II. The survivors are living in a home owned by an anthropologist, who studies and records their behavior. When the leader of the tribe, Aaron Ku (the tribe is known as the Kus, and all the members have the surname "Ku") is murdered, Scotland Yard moves in quickly and sends Jimmy Pibble, because of the unusual nature of the case and, frankly, because it doesn't seem important enough to warrant sending anyone else.
What we have in The Glass-Sided Ants' Nest is a novel that was somewhat ahead of its time, dealing as it does with unusual and primitive rituals, black-and-white relations and even gender role reversals. The anthropologist, Eve, holds some of the keys to the mystery, and serves as Pibble's guide (and ours) to understanding the behavior of the Kus. The book was awarded the Gold Dagger from the British Crime Writers' Association as the best book of the year when it was published. There are elements of both police procedural and traditional mystery here, plus more than a hint of modern noir, along with memorable and very unusual characters including the rather unheroic Jimmy Pibble. It's quite a book.
UPDATED to add the words "is murdered" after the parentheses in the first paragraph, inadvertently omitted in the original post.