The first forensic science mystery series, Gideon Oliver's debut was in 1982. This series began before forensics or anthropology were cool in mysteries. Aaron Elkins has won an Edgar for "Old Bones", as well as a subsequent Agatha (with wife Charlotte), and a Nero Wolfe Award. Check out his recent novel in this weeks review. Incidentally, this is the final book in the Gideon Oliver mysteries.
Copyright: December 2012 (Berkley) 294 pgs
Series: 18th in Gideon Oliver Mysteries
Mystery Sub-genre: Police Procedural, traditional
Main Characters: Forensics professor Gideon Oliver, know as the Skeleton Detective
Setting: Modern day, Florence and Tuscany Italy
Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review
Gideon Oliver and his wife, Julie, are in Tuscany for an international symposium on science and detection. Gideon is a featured speaker, but Gideon, his wife and their family friends, FBI agent John Lau and wife Marti, and making a vacation out of the trip. During the symposium a recent case is used for Gideon to utilize in a demonstration for the class. The body of Nola Cubbiddu, who the Italian police had determined was killed by her husband who then killed himself. But Gideon blows all their findings apart and says it could not possibly have happened that way, it was a double homicide. When Gideon finds out this is the case of Pietro and Nola, the head of Tuscany’s Villa Antica wine empire - and personal friends they were to stay with after the symposium at their vineyard, Gideon is in the middle of a hornet's nest. The Olivers and friends stay at the vineyard at the hospitality of the heirs to Villa Antica while the case if reopened.
This is my first Gideon Oliver mystery. I don't feel I got a very good picture of him other than his skill. I did like his enjoying the culture and food. His friend and FBI agent JOhn has quite a sense of humor and makes an excellent side kick to balance Gideon. Although the wives are on the trip, they are not as involved and have less "page time" than Gideon and John. Rocco, of the Italian carabinieri, is an interesting character that you actually miss since he will not likely be in another novel.
Tuscany Italy is solidly described and provides a colorful backdrop along with the politics of the Italian police.
The premise is good and the story took me on a nice ride, but there wasn't as much mystery for me. The science was there giving tidbits, and in the end there were only two factors that mattered, neither of them resulting from Gideon's findings. The pacing was maintained as the investigation develops. But this is not a suspenseful mystery with any sense of imminent danger. It seems more like a traditional puzzle mystery when all is done, rather than a forensic police procedural.
The reader has been following Gideon pick through the skeletal evidence, making it through types of bone fractures etc. only to have the police solve the murder without the use of Gideon's science. Essentially Gideon's expertise only gets the case reopened and the bodies re-examined, Gideon is mostly along for the drama for the rest of the book. That was a bit of a let down. There is no confrontation with the killer, the police just arrive and take somebody away. Very anti-climatic.
If you like more traditional puzzle mysteries, this will be up your alley. Don't think Kathy Reichs or CSI with this story, because it is unique in its own right. The science is only one aspect, ultimately Elkins brings it back to the basics of any good mystery. Although Professor Gideon Oliver is retiring, I look forward to discovering Aaron Elkins other writings now.
Rating: Good - A fun read with minor flaws. I like mine with a bit more sense of urgency. Maybe read an excerpt before buying.