by Aaron Elkins
Hardcover, 288 pg.
Berkley Hardcover, 2005
Spending time with an Aaron Elkins book is like spending time with old friends. Without meaning to I’d taken a few years off from reading the Oliver books, and then picked one up a couple of years ago and it was just like picking up a friend from high school like no time had passed. I had the same experience with this one it was a pleasant reunion with my old buddies Gideon, Julie and John.
A minor quibble to get out of the way before I get into this: I’m sorry, you really can’t be naming a main character Hedwig in 2005. What I see when I read that name isn’t the oddly large vegetarian, spiritual therapist (or whatever she calls herself); I see a white owl, delivering mail for a bespectacled wizard with a distinctive scar.
As usual, Gideon Oliver, the forensic anthropologist, is on a vacation with his old friend John Lau, the FBI agent and runs into a set of bones that needs to be examined. John and Julie, Gideon’s wife, are quick to joke about this tendency. This time, they’re on a ranch that John worked at in college and the plane that one of the ranch’s owners had disappeared in ten years previously is discovered. Gideon’s volunteered to help identify the remains in the plane — and things go sideways from there.
Gideon only has a foot and a mandible to work with this time (and later, some photographs of another body), so he doesn’t get to strut his stuff as much as he frequently does. Still, the amount of information he’s able to pull from this sample is astounding. Even if these books were dull, I’d pick them up frequently just to read these parts. But Elkins is fun to read — he has a breezy, comfortable style — which his main characters share. They have fun doing what they do, and it’s infectious, before long you can’t help having fun with them.
As enjoying as Elkins is to read, its easy to forget how dark he can go when it’s called for — usually when Gideon (and sometimes John) have been poking around in an old, old case and someone gets nervous about it and starts picking off incriminating people. I’m not saying he reaches a James Patterson-esque level of the description of a murder, it’s definitely briefer than him, but compared to the rest of the book, it’s dark.
I’d guessed at part of the big reveal at the end of the novel early on, but Gideon talked me out of it — quite convincingly (and honestly — Elkins doesn’t cheat like a lot of mystery writers do). I get frustrated at myself when that happens, but I’m consistently entertained by it, too. So that’s a plus in my book.
A good read, it’s a series you can really jump into at any point, with very clever mysteries — give it a shot. Hopefully I keep my resolution this time and get back together with my brainy pal Gideon real soon.