The best novels about hunting for a treasure that isn’t gold

Why am I passionate about this?

For much too long a perennial student, I hold degrees in Anthropology, Arabic Studies, and Library Science. I’ve studied nine languages and lived or traveled on five of the seven continents. I do not hunt tangible treasure—gold or jewels or sunken ships; I hunt knowledge. My love for rooting out treasure troves of information began with my first job. I held passes to the Library of Congress stacks, where I tracked down sources on Ethiopian history. After months of unearthing mostly obscure references, I came upon the mother lode—the great explorers’ accounts. It was like finding a chest of doubloons. I was hooked on the treasure of the mind.


I wrote...

Hidden Gem: The Secret of St. Augustine

By M. S. Spencer,

Book cover of Hidden Gem: The Secret of St. Augustine

What is my book about?

Barnaby and Philo’s story begins with very bad chili and a dead body.

Barnaby is in St. Augustine, Florida, to teach a college seminar, and plans to use The Secret—a treasure hunt book—as a framework for his class. He enlists Philo Brice, owner of an antique map store, to aid him in seeking clues in the historic sites of the ancient city. Together they face murderers, thieves, thugs, and fanatics, heightening their already strong attraction to each other. Can they solve the puzzle and unearth the treasure before the villains do? Philo and Barnaby pursue several twisting paths and false leads before arriving at a startling conclusion.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Thunderhead

M. S. Spencer Why did I love this book?

Nora Kelly, assistant professor at the Santa Fe Archaeological Institute, assembles an expedition to find the lost city of Quivira—Coronado’s City of Gold. Their footsteps are dogged by a pair of murderous, pelt-covered creatures. After unimaginable horrors, they at last discover the pueblo city and its treasure—but in an ironic twist, it isn’t gold at all.

I recommend every single one of Preston and Child’s thrillers. Superbly written and, though fantastic, they never lack a good grounding in science. Thunderhead is particularly alluring to me because of the descriptions of the sere landscape of the slot canyons and high desert of southwest Utah.

By Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Thunderhead as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On a visit to her family's abandoned Santa Fe ranch, archaeologist Nora Kelly discovers an old letter, written from her father to her mother, now both dead. What perplexes Nora is the fact that the faded envelope was mailed and postmarked only a few weeks earlier.
Her father had vanished into the remote canyon country of Utah 16 years before, searching for Quivira, the fabled Lost City of Gold, whose legend has captivated explorers since the days of Coronado. Upon reading the letter, Nora learns that her father believed he had, in fact, located the lost city. But what happened…


Book cover of The Labyrinth of Osiris

M. S. Spencer Why did I love this book?

You don’t often find novels in which an Egyptian and an Israeli work compatibly together, but Sussman’s series featuring two detectives—one from Luxor and the other from Jerusalem—does just that. Teaming up to solve the murder of a journalist, they pursue the case to the site of a gargantuan treasure long buried in the sands of the Western desert. Having lived in Egypt, I would have read The Labyrinth of Osiris if only for the setting, but found it to be a beguiling mystery, with unusual, sympathetic sleuths, an unmatched setting, and, best of all, treasure.

By Paul Sussman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Labyrinth of Osiris as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the international-bestselling author comes a “taut, entertaining archaeological murder-mystery-meets-spy-thriller” (Kirkus Reviews).
 
When journalist Rivka Kleinberg is brutally murdered in a Jerusalem cathedral, it’s a complicated case for detective Arieh Ben-Roi. Kleinberg had racked up a wide array of enemies exposing corruption in the halls of power—from international corporations and the Russian mob to the Israeli government.
 
Learning that Kleinberg was working on a story involving Egypt, Ben-Roi enlists the help of his old friend Yusuf Khalifa of the Luxor Police. Together they discover something far more sinister than a single murder.
 
Kleinberg was chasing a mystery spanning centuries—a timeless…


Book cover of The Sign of Four

M. S. Spencer Why did I love this book?

A one-legged man and a tiny creature. Only Sherlock Holmes could discern from the smallest and strangest of clues what happened to the stolen treasure of Agra brought back to England by four men united by greed. Arthur Conan Doyle was a master at providing all the clues you need to solve the mystery, while making the solution so incredible that you refuse to accept it until he lays it out for you.  

By Arthur Conan Doyle,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Sign of Four as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As a dense yellow fog swirls through the streets of London, a deep melancholy has descended on Sherlock Holmes, who sits in a cocaine-induced haze at 221B Baker Street. His mood is only lifted by a visit from a beautiful but distressed young woman - Mary Morstan, whose father vanished ten years before. Four years later she began to receive an exquisite gift every year: a large, lustrous pearl. Now she has had an intriguing invitation to meet her unknown benefactor and urges Holmes and Watson to accompany her. And in the ensuing investigation - which involves a wronged woman,…


Book cover of Map of Bones

M. S. Spencer Why did I love this book?

Not all treasure is gold—in Map of Bones, one of Rollins’ many excellent novels, it is bones. Ancient bones. In the aftermath of a horrific crime, the bones of the Three Magi are stolen from a German cathedral. A Vatican investigator and an American covert operative chase the thieves—an ancient cult of assassins—across two continents to recover the relics. Map of Bones is especially appealing to me, being a sucker for historic or exotic settings with which I’m familiar. Rollins’ books are all page-turners, fast-paced and compelling, and the Sigma Force series is perfect for those of us who love heroes who can extricate themselves from any predicament. I like my hero complex, yes. Sexy, yes. But above all, really, really good at what he does. 

By James Rollins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Map of Bones as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When a group of parishioners is burned to death in a German cathedral, the US sends in Sigma force. For this tragedy is more than a case of arson - someone has stolen the priceless treasure stored in the cathedral's golden reliquary: the bones of the biblical Three Kings. Commander Gray Pierce leads a team on the hunt for the Royal Dragon Court, a clandestine aristocratic fraternity of alchemists that dates back to the Middle Ages and seeks to establish a new world order using the mystical bones. Pierce and his team follow a trail that leads from Europe's Gothic…


Book cover of The Secret: a Treasure Hunt

M. S. Spencer Why did I love this book?

In my book, the hero enlists his students in a treasure hunt using a book by Byron Preiss called The Secret as a guide. In 1982 Preiss traveled to twelve spots in North America, at each of which he buried a ceramic casque. Each casque contained a key that could be redeemed for a jewel. To find a casque, the seeker had to match one of twelve paintings to one of twelve poems. The hunt has lasted four decades and involves thousands of players. Only three of the twelve hiding places have been found. Be careful! The Secret has drawn in much more cynical readers than you.

By Byron Preiss, Sean Kelly, Ted Mann , John Palencar (illustrator) , John Pierard (illustrator) , Overton Loyd (illustrator) , JoEllen Trilling (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Secret as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The tale begins over three-hundred years ago, when the Fair People—the goblins, fairies, dragons, and other fabled and fantastic creatures of a dozen lands—fled the Old World for the New, seeking haven from the ways of Man. With them came their precious jewels: diamonds, rubies, emeralds, pearls... But then the Fair People vanished, taking with them their twelve fabulous treasures. And they remained hidden until now...

Across North America, these twelve treasures, over ten-thousand dollars in precious jewels in 1982 dollars, are buried. The key to finding each can be found within the twelve full-color paintings and verses of THE…


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Shadow of the Hidden

By Kev Harrison,

Book cover of Shadow of the Hidden

Kev Harrison Author Of Below

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Storyteller Traveller Horror addict Reader

Kev's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

It’s Seb’s last day working in Turkey, but his friend Oz has been cursed. Superstition turns to terror as the effects of the ancient malediction spill over, and the lives of Oz and his family hang in the balance. Can Seb find the answers to remove the hex before it’s too late?

Journey with Seb, Oz, and Deniz across ancient North African cities as they seek to banish the Shadow of the Hidden.

Shadow of the Hidden

By Kev Harrison,

What is this book about?

It’s Seb’s last day working in Turkey, but his friend Oz has been cursed. Superstition turns to terror as the effects of the ancient malediction spill over and the lives of Oz and his family hang in the balance. Can Seb find the answers to remove the hex before it’s too late?

From Kev Harrison, author of The Balance and Below, journey with Seb, Oz and Deniz across ancient North African cities as they seek to banish the Shadow of the Hidden.


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