Murder, greed and a new mystery

When Aaron Elkins writes a book, he likes to dive fully into his settings.

The Sequim mystery author, who recently completed “Uneasy Relations,” his 25th novel, said he visited the book’s location, the Rock of Gibraltar, more than once before he felt comfortable writing about it.

“If I have someone pushing the main character off the rock, I want to be up on that rock to see how he’d fall and how he could be saved,” Elkins said.

He said he digs deeper into not only the location but into the culture and takes careful notes on everything from the stories in the area’s newspapers to the way the locals answer phones. If something is inaccurate, Elkins joked, his readers are sure to let him know.

In “Uneasy Relations,” Elkins, formerly a physical anthropology professor at universities in California and Maryland, continues the journey of Gideon Oliver, a fictional anthropologist he’s written about in 12 books. The tale follows the main character to the Rock of Gibraltar as he becomes fascinated with the discovery of the remains of a human woman found clutching a part-Neanderthal child.

Elkins said he does not know how the creative ideas and intricate plotlines for his books come to be.

“You ask a fiction writer, ‘How did you think of this?’ and you don’t get a real answer,” Elkins said. “We write what comes to us.”

That doesn’t mean there isn’t any planning that goes into Elkins novels. He said he writes the book so there are clues leading up to the solving of the mystery but he never gives it away completely.

“A good mystery writer never reveals all his cards,” Elkins said.

According to many in the writing world, Elkins’ techniques are working. He’s received rave reviews from critics at national publications including The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer and USA Today. Perhaps the greatest accolades, however, come from famed fellow mystery writer Sue Grafton, who called Elkins “first rate.”

Despite all the national praise and his New York-based publishing company, Elkins insists he has no desire to leave Sequim. He moved here with his wife, Charlotte, in 1983 and they stayed for a few years before moving away and returning to live here permanently in 1991.

“We move around a lot … when you’re a writer you can live anyplace,” he said. “(But) Sequim is the only place we’ve ever come back to.”

Although Elkins said he strives to make his books “witty and funny,” he admitted that his old teaching habits are heard to break.

“I want there to be some value in (the books),” he said. “I’m still an old professor.”

As for his ideal readers, Elkins imagines them boarding a cross-country flight with his book in hand.

“I want them to say ‘I enjoyed that and I learned something,’” he said. “I write for pleasure and some enlightenment.”

“Uneasy Relations” is available at and area bookstores. For more information, visit

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