Bone up on forensics with Aaron Elkins' 'Skull Duggery'

"Skull Duggery" -

Aaron Elkins

Berkley - 281 pages - $24.95

Gideon Oliver was a forensics phenomenon well before "CSI" became a television franchise. At work and at play, the fictional anthropology professor created by Sequim author Aaron Elkins is a magnet for the bones of people who've met a homicidal demise.

Also known as the Skeleton Detective, Gideon has probed his way through 16 books now - the latest is "Skull Duggery."

If murder mysteries are your cup of cappuccino, this is a good choice, In this latest installment, Gideon travels with his wife to a Mexican dude ranch operated by her relatives. He anticipates a leisurely week spent touring Zapotec ruins but within hours of his arrival he has been asked to examine a mummified corpse.

Sandoval, the local police chief, recognizes it as that of a drifter who passed through town half a year before. The chief is beside himself - this job was supposed to be an easy stepping stone for him on the way to becoming mayor of his sleepy little town. Instead, he has a mummy with a bullet hole to contend with - and this is the second dead body to have turned up in his six months on the job. The first was the skeleton of a child murdered several years earlier; the case has been in limbo because no one can identify the remains.

In the new case, when the coroner is unable to locate the bullet thought to have killed the victim, Sandoval asks Gideon to take a look.

Gideon discovers a much different cause of death.

His report makes the state police ask more questions. Fortunately, it turns out that the man in charge is the diminutive, affable and keenly astute Javier Marmolejo, who first made Gideon's acquaintance in Elkins' 1989 Mayan murder mystery "Curses!"

Gideon's availability and expertise prompt Marmolejo to reopen the case of the murdered child. Here, too, Gideon finds new evidence.

Aaron Elkins knows how to string his readers along in the best of ways. His plot twists are satisfying, the forensics savvy is top-notch, and the exotic cultural aspects of the story are a pleasure, too. But that's of trifling consequence. If you've been meaning to dig up a murder mystery, "Skull Duggery" is a good choice.

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this column focusing on books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at Elkins on art

Aaron Elkins, will speak on "Art Thieves and Con Men and Forgers, Oh My!" at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 22 at the Sequim Library 630 N. Sequim Ave. Seating is limited; doors will open at 6:30 p.m.

Elkins' talk will examine the world's most notorious art thefts, scams and forgeries.

Besides writing the Skeleton Detective thrillers, Elkins also authored "Loot," a massively researched, critically acclaimed novel dealing with Nazi art plunder in World War II.

For details of this program, call the library, 683-1161, or visit and click on "Events" and "Sequim Branch."

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