Monday, September 28, 2009

Skull Duggery - Aaron Elkins

Skull Duggery
Aaron Elkins
Berkley Prime Crime


Forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver (LITTLE TINY TEETH, UNEASY RELATIONS) and his wife, Julie, are preparing for a week of relaxation in the sun of Mexico. Well, Gideon will be relaxing. Julie will be taking over for her cousin, Annie, manager of the family-run resort Hacienda Encantrada. Nearly every member of the very extended family has spent time working at the place, so Julie knows the ropes and should get along fine. Of course, things are complicated by the fact that the business manager is also absent, with those duties falling to Julie, too.

And Gideon won’t be getting as bored as he thought he might. In small nearby town – a place that has had a murder rate of zero for decades – bodies are starting to turn up with distressing regularity. First, a hiker finds the skeleton of what looks to be a girl in an abandoned silver mine. Whoever she was, it looks like a number of blows to the head killed her. Then a local villager, looking for firewood off the beaten path discovers the mummified remains of a man. There’s a bullet hole in the remains, but no bullet. And no exit wound.

The chief of police, Flaviano Sandoval, only wanted to serve his time in office in peace, as a stepping stone to his real goal: the mayor’s office. Years of civil service are required for that, which is how the unprepared Sandoval finds himself in this terrible position. If he can’t solve these crimes, the state police will be all over him, and, far worse, he’ll look incompetent. That would definitely be a blow to his political aspirations. Lucky for him, then, that the famed Skeleton Detective is in the area and willing to lend a hand. Not so lucky for those already in office (including the coroner) that Gideon disagrees with nearly everything they’ve said. It’s enough to make a man wish he’d become a farmer instead.

This is a wonderful series of mysteries. There’s plenty of character development as we follow Gideon and Julie through their lives and careers. For forensics buffs, even (or maybe, especially) the armchair variety, the way Gideon goes about his job, and the clues he’s able to uncover, fascinate. The author skillfully uses the locale, with its blend of tourists, locals, and legends, to underpin the story. It’s rare for me to put down one of these novels once I’ve started, and this was no exception. Now begins the wait for the next one.

Rating: 8 ½
September 2009
ISBN# 978-0-425-22797-8 (hardcover)


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