New York, Berkley Publishing Group
February 2004 (hc)
The publication of a new Gideon Oliver mystery has always seemed to me like the reappearance of an old friend after a long absence. The recent publication of Good Blood came at a particularly fortuitous time for me as it coincided with my period of recuperation following an unanticipated surgery. Regardless of the circumstances, it was wonderful to once again lose myself in the world of the world-famous “Skeleton Detective,” Gideon Oliver. After all, it has been nearly four years since the previous Gideon Oliver novel –Skeleton Dance—appeared on bookshelves.
All of the elements that one has come to expect from Aaron Elkins’ mysteries were present—and still fresh and vigorous, even though it’s been more than twenty years since he introduced his physical anthropologist/sleuth to the mystery reading public.
Elkins deftly describes the setting for his story, the Lake Maggiore district of northern Italy and the village of Stresa. The circumstances surrounding the kidnapping of the son of a local industrialist allows the author to introduce the reader to many of the important characters in the novel and also to the sociological class structure of, which in many ways retains much of its pre-democratic roots—an element important in the unfolding of the story.
Gideon Oliver, on holiday from his teaching and research duties in the United States, is drawn into a web of decades-old intrigue when the local police request his expertise upon the discovery of a body shallowly buried in the gravels of a construction site owned by the industrialist whose son had recently been kidnapped. The body proves to be much older and therefore not that of the kidnapped Achille de Grazia. Yet forces seem to be unleashed with the discovery of the body and Gideon, his wife Julie, and his old friend Phil Boyajian (they were grad school colleagues at the University of Wisconsin) and all are drawn into a vortex of family hatreds and jealousies–and murder.
The plot is complex and satisfying, the characters are fully developed and richly textured, the setting is lovingly described, and Gideon Oliver remains one of the truly fine creations in all of detective fiction—alternately witty, self-deprecating, pompous, tough and vulnerable. Throw in a great deal of the minutia of physical anthropology and you have a great mystery novel. I only hope we Gideon Oliver fans don’t have to wait another three or four years for the next one!