By: Aaron Elkins
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., New York
2000 (hc); 2001 (pb)
There are quite a number of good series books that
use archaeology and/or anthropology as the background for the mysteries
or adventures into which they delve.
Malcolm Shuman’s Alan Graham mysteries come to mind, as well as
Lynn Hamilton’s Lara McClintoch, Beverly Connor’s Lindsey
Chamberlain, and of course, Elizabeth Peters’ wonderful Amelia Peabody
series. But my personal
favorite has always been Aaron Elkins’ Gideon Oliver mysteries.
In this, the tenth entry in the series, Gideon
Oliver, physical anthropologist and world famous “skeleton
detective,” and his wife Julie find mystery and mayhem in the Dordogne
of France, an area rich in early European man sites—specifically
Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon. Gideon
is working on a book for a popular audience, entitled Bones to Pick:
Wrong Turns, Dead Ends, and Popular Misconceptions in the Study
of Humankind, and one of his case studies involves a hoax
perpetrated by a member or members of the world renowned but more than
slightly stuffy Institute of Prehistory located in the quaint village of
Les Eyzies. Before Gideon
and Julie can even unpack, an old friend (Inspector Joly from the
wonderful Old Bones mystery) has the world famous “skeleton
detective” investigating the skeletal remains recently dug up by
Toutou, a village mutt. But
these remain are neither Neanderthal nor Cro-Magnon—they are, in fact,
much more recent as the bullet hole in the chest would indicate! Gideon
takes on the case in his usual stumbling, bumbling way and finally, with
the help of Julie, solves the mystery, which, much to his surprise, ties
in with his research on the hoax played out among the dry-as-dust
academicians of the Institute.
Along the way, the reader is treated to some solid
scientific information regarding early man in Europe, some first-rate
physical anthropology and more than a few good belly laughs,
particularly when Gideon is told the story of the “Lost Hippopotamus
of Lake Mendota”—yes, the Lake Mendota!
And therein lies, I think, one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed the
Gideon Oliver series so much over the years—Aaron Elkins simply has a
great sense of humor, and the Gideon Oliver series allows him to display
that sense of humor. And I must admit to a bit of provincialism when it comes to
my beating the drum for Gideon Oliver mysteries—Aaron Elkins received
a degree in anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and
his fictional hero, Gideon Oliver, “earned” his Ph.D. in physical
anthropology from that same institution.
So Gideon is one of ours!
Skeleton Dance is an entertaining read and I
highly recommend all of the others in the series, especially Murder
in the Queen’s Armes, Curses!, The Dark Place, and Old Bones.
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