A Conversation with Margalit Fox, author of “The Riddle of the Labyrinth”, August 15, 2013
On March 30, 1900, during the excavation of the Palace of Knossos on the island of Crete, site of the legendary labyrinth from which Daedalus and Icarus took flight, workmen unearthed a clay tablet inscribed with an unknown script. Some of the characters of the script looked like the letters of an alien alphabet, others like alien hieroglyphics. In the following weeks and months workmen unearthed more tablets, several hundred of which had fallen from a floor above into a terra cotta bathtub.
The tablets contained messages sent from the dawn of history, from before the time of Homer, but they were messages that could not be received. No one knew what language people spoke 30 centuries ago on Crete, and there was no Rosetta stone among the discoveries at Knossos. (There were, however, other enchanting wonders — elaborate lavatories, murals of griffins and dolphins.) For 50 years, the inscriptions seemed impossible to crack. The code’s ultimate decipherment would turn out to be one of the great scientific detective stories of the 20th century — The Mysterious Case of Linear B.
In Margalit Fox’s new history of the case, “The Riddle of the Labyrinth,” Sherlock Holmes makes several cameo appearances, and for good reason. In Fox, the story has found a worthy Conan Doyle. In the best detective stories, the mysteries of human character are as compelling as the enigmatic clues, and as central to the plot, which explains why Fox structures her book as a triptych of biographies.
From Donovan Hohn’s review of “The Riddle of the Labyrinth” The NYT Sunday Book Review June 16, 2013
It’s hard to write a mystery story when everyone already knows how it ends, yet still make it a page turner, but that’s exactly what Margalit Fox has done with her new book The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code.