DEAD MEN'S HEARTS
By: Aaron Elkins
Mysterious Press, New York
Aaron Elkins' eighth Gideon Oliver mystery finds the intrepid "Skeleton
Detective" and his wife Julie on their way to Egypt at the behest of the
University of Washington's vice-president for development. It seems that Bea
and Bruno Gustafson of Walla Walla, significant donors to the University,
are also major contributors to the Horizon Foundation, an archaeological
research institute located in Luxor, Egypt. The Gustafson's wish to sponsor
a promotional video that highlights the Foundation's history and
contributions to Egyptology-and they want the famous Gideon Oliver to be one
of the film's narrators.
It is always a pleasure to read - and re-read-a Gideon Oliver novel, and it
was doubly so in this case as I read Dead Men's Hearts almost literally
following in Gideon's footsteps. Although Gideon and Julie traveled to Luxor
by boat up the Nile, I was fortunate enough to be accompanying two
Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center archaeologists by train as we traveled
from Cairo to Luxor by train, which is almost never out of sight of the
Nile. While our trip was exciting and adventuresome, we fortunately did not
face the dangers that befell the entourage filming the video in the novel.
Almost as soon as Gideon and Julie join the film crew and research staff of
Horizon House in Luxor-loosely based on Chicago House of the University of
Chicago's Oriental Institute-things begin to go badly. A skeleton in modern
Arab garb is found in a tool shed on the Horizon House grounds. Using his
almost legendary forensic skills, Gideon dates the Skelton to about 2,000 BC
and most likely a scribe of a royal house. This uncanny bit of detective
work turns out to be a bit off as the Egyptian police identify the body
being of very recent vintage and quite possibly the victim of foul play!
However, a second Skelton is soon discovered and this one, without doubt, is
some 4,000 years old, and Gideon is convinced there is some body-switching
chicanery going on. Clifford Haddon, the irascible director of Horizon House
is also certain that he saw a statuary head from the Amarna period tucked
away with the first skeleton, but no one else seems to have seen it and it
was not present when the police were on the scene.
The plot thickens when Haddon is killed falling overboard on a Nile cruise
and Gideon, whose expertise has been put in question by the skeleton in the
tool shed fiasco, must convince the Egyptian police that Haddon was the
victim of foul play. His dogged pursuit of the puzzling occurrences at
Horizon House leads to a deadly confrontation with a killer on the edge of
the Western Desert just outside Luxor and also unravels a plot involving the
trafficking of Egyptian antiquities.
Reading any Gideon Oliver is a cause for rejoicing and Dead Men's Hearts is
no exception. A reader can always anticipate a good solid mystery, some
wonderful humor, and a worthwhile lesson in forensic anthropology from the
world-famous Skelton Detective, Gideon Oliver.
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