Friday, November 16, 2007

The Skeleton Detective visits the Amazon

Gideon Oliver, hero of fourteen mystery novels all involving skeletons, is back. He is joined by his old friends John Lau (FBI agent) and Phil Boyajian (On the Cheap travel guides editor) on a boat trip down the Amazon river. Gideon thinks he'll be getting a nice, sunny vacation away from dreary, overcast Washington - but he is in for a surprise.

The book opens with a scene from years earlier, in which three graduate students have a harrowing encounter with Chayacuro headhunters, with only one escaping back to civilization. That young man eventually becomes world-renowned ethnobotanist Arden Scofield, who has booked the same boat as Gideon and his friends, along with several colleagues and acquaintances for a research trip.

It quickly becomes apparent that no one on the boat cares much for the bombastic, pompous Dr. Scofield, and the reader can be fairly certain who the victim of this murder mystery is going to be. Elkins gives a lot of information on the different boat passengers, and it isn't until over halfway through the book that a murder actually takes place. But I was so taken by the description of the Amazon and its inhabitants that I didn't mind one bit. The sensory images are so vivid that I felt as though I were there on that boat with the other characters.

Once again Gideon Oliver's skills as a forensic anthropologist are called into play, and as always I am fascinated by the many things bones can tell a careful observer about the person who once moved around in them. The mystery is fairly straightforward, without too many confusing twists and turns, so that an observant reader will be able to figure out whodunit. My only problem with this book is that it mentions that Gideon Oliver is in his 30s. I started reading this series in the 1980s, and so in my mind Gideon is at least 15 or 20 years older than I am. It's not fair that he gets to stay so young, and now I'm older than he is! How did that happen?

This is one of my all-time favorite mystery series. It combines engaging characters, realistic dialog, fascinating geographical locations, interesting biological facts, and gripping storytelling. It is not absolutely necessary to read them in order, I suppose, but I would suggest starting at the beginning if only for the sake of continuity. The first couple are pretty good, but they definitely get better, for the most part, as they go along.

The books of the Gideon Oliver series in order so far:
  1. Fellowship of Fear
  2. The Dark Place
  3. Murder in the Queen's Armies
  4. Old Bones
  5. Curses
  6. Icy Clutches
  7. Make No Bones
  8. Dead Men's Hearts
  9. Twenty Blue Devils
  10. Skeleton Dance
  11. Good Blood
  12. Where There's a Will
  13. Unnatural Selection
  14. Little Tiny Teeth
Little Tiny Teeth by Aaron Elkins (Berkley Hardcover, 2007)


  1. A new series! New to me anyway. :-) I will definitely have to check into this one. Thanks for the great review!

  2. Great! You'll have to let me know what you think. I love to take them on planes or long car trips because they are generally gripping and make the time go by quickly.

  3. I haven't heard of these either! I love forensic mysteries. I'm adding the first in this series to my List. Thanks!

  4. Oh, good! I love discovering a good new series, so it's fun to introduce other people to one of my favorites.


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