Sunday, October 4, 2009

Skull Duggery

Gideon Oliver, the renowned "skeleton detective" (not to be confused with Skulduggery Pleasant, the literal skeleton detective), returns in this, his sixteenth murder mystery. This time Gideon and his lovely wife Julie head to the village of Teotitlan de Valle in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Julie is going there to help out some relatives, who own a dude ranch there.

Gideon, an anthropology professor who is notoriously antsy after about five minutes of relaxation, has foolishly chosen not to bring any work with him. Julie is momentarily concerned, and then she says:
"Well, I don't know why I should be worried. Some old skeleton will turn up for you; it always does."

"No way, not this time. I'm not bringing any tools with me; no calipers, no nothing. Nobody will even know how to find me, so what could happen?"
"Something will happen, " she declared.
Luckily for the reader, Julie is absolutely right. A skeleton does turn up, and the village police chief (a political appointee who is not keen on his job - he just hopes to make it through his stint with as few problems as possible) is only too happy to have Gideon take a look at the body that mysteriously turned up in the desert not far from the village, mummified from the heat and dryness. He is not too happy when Gideon determines that the local coroner made some mistakes in his assumptions - and is even more concerned when it appears there may be a connection between this corpse and an old murder case that involves the death of a child.

This is one of those mystery series that I enjoy both for the intriguing and puzzling mysteries (complete with interesting physiological clues) as well as for the characters I've come to love. Gideon and Julie have such an affectionate relationship, and their interactions are full of humor and a sincere appreciation for each other (not to mention a tolerance for each other's foibles) that always makes me smile. For instance, at one point Julie has an idea about the murder, and she tells Gideon that she's going to mention her theory to the police investigator when she sees him. He replies:
"No reason not to, but you don't have a theory, Julie. A theory requires at least some observed facts from which to draw reasonable reliable inferences that can then--"

"Okay, my hypothesis."

"You don't have a hypothesis, Julie. Even a hypothesis has to be founded on
observed phenomena that--"

She was rolling her eyes. "Okay already, my speculation! All right?"

"You don't h--"

"My conjecture! My supposition! My
unverified supposition? My blind guess? My shot in the dark?"

Gideon stroked his chin contemplatively. "I would accept blind guess, yes."

She made a face and threw a balled-up napkin at him, and they broke into laughter again. "Oh, the joys of being married to a pedant," she said.
The forensic details of the mystery are fascinating, and it is continually amazing to me how many stories our bodies - our skeletons in particular, as is the focus of this series - can tell about ourselves, our habits, our lives. The small-town Mexican setting is an evocative backdrop, with its archaeological ruins, abandoned mines and arid deserts. All in all, this was an excellent installment in the series, and I'm already looking forward to the next one.

Books in the
Gideon Oliver series:
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
15. Uneasy Relations

16. Skull Duggery

Skull Duggery (#16 in the Gideon Oliver series) by Aaron Elkins (Berkley Prime Crime, 2009)

Have you reviewed this book? Please leave me a link in the comments, and I'll add it to my review.


  1. I love a mystery that really makes you think. This too sounds like something I would enjoy! Wonder how I haven't heard of this before now?

  2. I have never even heard of this before!

  3. How have I never heard of this series before. I must start reading it. It sounds perfect for me. Thanks for listing the books.

  4. Ladytink - I've been reading this series for years - it's one of the ones that brought me into the genre at a time when I was reading mostly fantasy and SF. Good stories, good characters - they get better and better as the series goes on, too!

    Kailana - I'm glad to spread the word! :-)

    Beth - I'd read them in order, more for what's going on in the characters' lives than for the mystery parts, but I'm totally fanatical about reading things in order, so you can take it with a grain of salt. :-)


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