The Lifers' Club

By Francis Pryor

Archaeology can be a dirty business

Crime | Fiction
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Publication date: July 2014

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Alan Cadbury is a professional archaeologist: a digger of ancient sites and a man who likes to unravel the mysteries and meaning of the past. Most of the sites he dug were ahead of industrial development or new housing estates, gravel quarries, roads, etc. The people who did the work were down-to-earth. Some were students, others were professional diggers – but they all knew what they wanted from life and were prepared to work long hours, for very low pay. In the seventies to nineties, Alan and his colleagues lived in abandoned houses or camped out on the edges of industrial estates. They were always covered in mud, were deeply suntanned and drunk (or stoned) on their days off. They were feared by respectable citizens. They were known as Circuit Diggers because they worked the 'circuit', moving from one excavation to another, as new sites were opened, right across Britain.

Like others on the circuit, Alan Cadbury is obsessive: he won’t let problems lie, even when he’s slumped drunk in a lonely bedsit, somewhere in the Fens. But there’s another side to him, too: he enjoyes solving mysteries. In the late ‘90s he helped to give a forensic archaeology course and there met Richard Lane, now a senior detective in the Leicestershire force. DCI Lane helps him tackle new cases. But this is his first big one: it involves an 'honour killing', which happened eight years ago in Leicester. Most of the action takes place in the Fens, where Alan has lived all his life. It’s a dark tale of past wrong-doing and modern criminality – on a very large scale. And it’s not without violence and rapid action. Alan’s life may be harsh and at times unpleasant, but it’s not likely to be very long, either.

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  • Francis Pryor avatar

    Francis Pryor

    Francis Pryor was born in London in 1945. After studying archaeology at Cambridge he emigrated to Toronto where he joined the staff of the Royal Ontario Museum. Using the Museum as a base, he began a series of major excavations (1971-78) in England, at Fengate, on the outskirts of Peterborough. Here he revealed an extensive prehistoric landscape, culminating in the discovery, in 1982 of Flag Fen, one of the best preserved Bronze Age sites in Europe. His books include his 'Britain' series (for HarperCollins): Britain BC, Britain AD, Britain in the Middle Ages and The Birth of Modern Britain. Two were filmed for Channel 4. In 2010 he published (with Penguin) The Making of the British Landscape. He has appeared frequently on Time Team and has presented a number of programmes for Radio 4. The Lifers’ Club is his first work of fiction.


  • The building shook. Windows rattled. Just outside in the quarry, five tons of stone smashed into a dumper truck. Next another, and another, then the turbo-charged diesel screamed into life, as the laden dumper pulled away, passing them close by. Mugs of tea rippled. But nobody in the stuffy Portacabin took any notice. For them, it was routine.

    For weeks the rain had been pouring down. Outside, on site, the ground was wet and slimy. Lethal. Inside, water had seeped through the door and formed a little puddle, which slowly drained through a crack in the floor, where the doormat should have been. Condensation ran down the windows, two of which were boarded-up after an attack by vandals the previous week. But as site-huts went, it was pretty good.

    Alan Cadbury and his twelve diggers were sipping hot drinks, their hard-hats and hi-viz waterproofs hanging, dripping on a row of pegs by the door. One or two read newspapers. No-one said much. They all just wanted to dry off for a few minutes and relax in the steamy warmth, while outside, in the gravel pit’s washing plant, more stones thundered into yet another dumper, which revved-up and roared away, to shed its load round the back, in the flooded area quarried out the previous year.

    Read more...
  • Francis Pryor has written 1 private update. You can pledge to get access to them all.

    6th May 2015 Come and join Alan for his second adventure!

    On January 20th we had a great crowdfunding launch celebration for Alan Cadbury’s second adventure. We held it in Ely, the capital city of the peat, or Black Fens, dominated by that most stunning of all buildings, the magnificent Cathedral – known to generations of Fen people as the Ship of the Fens. Whenever I catch a train at March station I try to leave town on my homeward journey by heading southwards…

    21st January 2015 Dark Evil In The Black Fens - The Second Alan Cadbury Novel

    What could be more gorgeous than Ely Cathedral in all its stunning Norman majesty? But this fabulous building, known to Fenmen as The Ship of the Fens, has recently been revealed to have concealed some dark secrets, both in the days of its founder, St Etheldreda, and today, in the 21st Century. My second book featuring the archaeologist and amateur sleuth Alan Cadbury, The Way, The Truth and The…

    8th September 2014 RAVE review of The Lifers' Club

    I've been subscribing to the popular magazine Current Archaeology since it first appeared, in March 1967. That was the year of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. It was also the year I graduated from university and got a job in Truman's Brewery, Brick Lane, London. But I still subscribed to Current Archaeology, so my interest in the subject hadn't died merely because I was physically…

    25th July 2014 An interview with Liz Garner

    Happy Friday, subscribers!

    Yesterday Liz Garner spent some time interview Francis Pryor, and the resulting audio is now available in the shed.

    We hope you have a great weekend.

    Cheers,

    The Unbounders.

    24th February 2014 Shhhh! Not a word to a soul...

    ... but Alan Cadbury is currently telling me about his latest adventure into murder, mystery and archaeology, set once again, in the Fens. I know I must be completely mad even to think of writing-down another of Alan’s exploits, especially given his hopeless unreliability. I mean, he rarely sticks to appointments and even when he does manage to turn up on time, his brain is usually elsewhere. No,…

    17th March 2013 My Real Life Shed is a Mess

    11th March 2013 Blimey, whatever happened to Tuesday?

    Hooray, I've managed to master the software. I'm also up to my neck in sheep after-birth and lambs, not to mention a border collie named Twink whose mission in life seems to be to get under my feet when I'm trying to deliver lambs. This is now the start of the second week (of six) when we lamb about 95 ewes. It's not a big flock, but it's as time-consuming to lamb 95 as 950. I suppose I should be…

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  • Brian Jones
    Brian Jones asked:

    My name is Brian Jones. I have just had 'The Peterborough Book of Days' published via The History Press. I have plans for another book - based on the River Welland - and have just discovered Unbound. It looks very interesting but I would be very pleased to hear your experience with the The Lifers' Club. Among other activities I work with Stuart Orme as a guide and re-enactor and I'm sure he will be honest if you wish to check me out.

    Francis Pryor
    Francis Pryor replied:

    I'm very happy with Unbound, but I don't think they do many books with what you might call local or regional appeal. I think your project sounds far better suited to the History Press. Have you thought about the Peterorough Telegraph publishers? Or Jarrolds of Norwich? Sorry I can't be more helpful. Francis.

    Ron Kerr
    Ron Kerr asked:

    What an opportunity! I don't really have a question. I want to say how much I enjoyed your book 'Home'. So much so that I am now well into 'Britain BC' and I look forward to reading more of your factual books, Dr. Pryor. I was a fan of 'Time Team' and if I'd only known what an archeologist was when I was at school I would hopefully made it my life's work. Now, at 80, I can only keep up to date with 'Current Archaeology' and dream of what might have been. Thank you for all the pleasure you have given, and will continue to give, me. I certainly will buy your book. Thank you so much.

    Francis Pryor
    Francis Pryor replied:

    Although a mere 70 myself, I do hugely appreciate your thanks and good wishes. You are too kind. All the very best, Francis.