A Gideon Oliver Mystery by Aaron Elkins
Review: Gideon Oliver heads to Mexico with his wife Julie for a week at a luxury dude ranch in Skull Duggery, the 16th mystery in this series featuring the "Skeleton Detective" by Aaron Elkins.
Julie's cousin Annie has to return to the US, and asks Julie to manage the Hacienda Encantada for a week in her absence. Julie is thrilled by the opportunity to get away from Seattle for a bit. They're barely off the plane before Gideon is asked to consult on a body that the local authorities have just found. "I told him something like this would turn up," Julie says to Annie. "It never fails." The body is of a man who appears to have been shot, but there's no bullet and no exit wound. Gideon determines the cause of death, and that would appear to be the end of his involvement. But then another skeleton turns up in a local mine, this time apparently of a young woman. In a community that is virtually crime free, this is too much of a coincidence. Gideon wants to pursue an investigation, but the police chief warns him, "Even if you were to ferret something out, even if you were to identify her murderer, [due to Mexico's statute of limitations] nothing could be done about it, you understand?" But that's not Gideon's style.
Skull Duggery is at its strongest when Gideon is alone with his bones. Even after 16 books, there's a sense of wonder and awe as Gideon coaxes the most obscure information from the bones. "Like any forensic anthropologist, he took satisfaction and pleasure in working with skeletons, in reconstructing, at least in part, the living human being — sex, age, habits, appearance, occupation, the whole history of a life, and often the nature of its death — from a pile of bones." The exotic setting in Oaxaca, with centuries of history and culture, would seem to be a perfect place for Gideon to practice his craft. And the A-ha! moment, when it happens, is always a thrill.
But the rest of the story is completely forgettable, the characters, for the most part, indistinguishable and interchangeable. It seems more effort was put into describing Gideon's meals (for lunch "a bowl of creamy Oaxacan-style gazpacho, made with eggs and sour cream, and garnished with jicama and cumin-coated tortilla chips"; for breakfast "hibiscus juice, cubed melon and papaya, a tender, perfectly cooked vegetable frittata, and toast, jam, and coffee"; for dinner "tacos al pastor, marinated pork [shaved] from the sides of a trompo, a top-shaped vertical spit, [laid] over two stacked, warm, freshly made corn tortillas, and neatly [topped] with a slice of grilled pineapple") than in creating a credible, interesting plot. Though Gideon is entertaining as per usual, Skull Duggery is not one of his better adventures.
Acknowledgment: Penguin Group provided a copy of Skull Duggery for this review.
Review Copyright © 2009 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Thomas & Mercer (Trade Paperback), February 2016
ISBN-13: 9781477827680; ISBN-10: 1477827684
Location(s) referenced in Skull Duggery: Mexico
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Skull Duggery by Aaron Elkins — A Gideon Oliver Mystery
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Publication Date: September 2009
List Price: $24.95
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Page Author: Lance Wright
Site Publisher: Mysterious Reviews
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