I first started reading these years ago, based on the recommendation of a friend, and the series has become one of those that, when I see a new book is out, I almost hate to read it because then I'll be stuck waiting for the next one to be published. And opening up the book feels like unwrapping a nice fat chocolate bar -- there's that same wonderful feeling of anticipation.
For anyone who has not read this series, I would definitely recommend starting with the first one and reading them in order. That would be The Fellowship of Fear, published in 1982. As with many series, the books get better and better (for the most part) as they go along, so keep an open mind as you read the first few. (By the way, one great site for seeing the order of books in series is What's Next.)
This installment of the series is set in the Isles of Scilly, off the coast of Cornwall, where forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver has accompanied his wife to attend a consortium about conservation. In the course of events - surprise! - some old bones turn up, and it is immediately apparent to Gideon that the bones in question belonged to a murder victim. Soon it is evident that the murderer must be one of the interesting and colorful characters attending the consortium.
I enjoy these books because the characters are real and interesting, and I always learn something about the human skeleton and anthropology in general. I also like that the clues are there for the careful reader to figure out the mystery, and that when the mystery is revealed, the clues to the outcome make perfect sense. I also enjoy seeing the lives of the characters transform and progress as the series moves forward -- there isn't that Hardy Boys sense of everything starting over from scratch with each book, and there is the added treat of characters from past books showing up in later installments.
It was this series that hooked me on mysteries after a long hiatus, and I think it is because the character development is there; the people matter, not just the mystery. It is more than a puzzle to be solved -- the stories are, as good stories tend to be, about the human condition, and the fun mystery is just icing on the cake.
Oh, and my advice about the golf mysteries that Elkins writes with his wife, Charlotte: avoid them! I managed to wade through one and found it terribly disappointing. The art history ones, though, which he wrote on his own, are lots of fun.
The books of the Gideon Oliver series in order so far:
- Fellowship of Fear
- The Dark Place
- Murder in the Queen's Armies
- Old Bones
- Icy Clutches
- Make No Bones
- Dead Men's Hearts
- Twenty Blue Devils
- Skeleton Dance
- Good Blood
- Where There's a Will
- Unnatural Selection
- Little Tiny Teeth
Unnatural Selection by Aaron Elkins (Berkley Prime Crime, 2006)