With the annual Malice Domestic conference coming up in less than three weeks, I thought it was high time that I made the acquaintance of some of the fine authors of traditional mysteries who will be honored at the event. One of the honorees this year will be Aaron Elkins, who will be receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award, and I thought it would be good to start by reading one of the books in his primary series featuring the "Skeleton Detective," Dr. Gideon Oliver. Have I been missing a lot?
Well...frankly...yes. I may be late to the party, but I found Dr. Oliver a most enjoyable companion, as he led me through a rudimentary appreciation of forensic anthropology, the scientific study of human remains, in an often funny, if sometimes grisly, mystery.
I found a good example of what that means - and how Gideon Oliver puts together the fragments of a mysterious death to reveal a pretty shocking crime - in "Make No Bones," originally published in 1991, and the seventh book in Elkins' continuing series. It's the subject of this week's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the full review by clicking here.
In "Make No Bones," members of the Western Association of Forensic Anthropologists are gathering for their biennial get-together - what the organizer calls the group’s "eagerly anticipated bone bash and weenie roast." It’s a combination of a scientific business conference, with academic discussions of forensic science and anthropology, together with a social gathering. The problem, this year, is that the organizer has chosen to hold it at Whitebark Lodge, in Oregon, where the association was formed, ten years earlier. That original ill-fated conference had ended in tragedy, as Albert Evan Jasper, called the “dean of American forensic anthropologists,” died in a fiery bus crash. As the scientists gather again a decade later at Whitebark Lodge, there will be unpleasant surprises in store – not to mention murders, old and new to be solved. It will be up to Gideon Oliver, working with his wife, Julie, and their friend, FBI Agent John Lau, to unravel a grisly set of clues to reveal a deadly secret.
There's a fair amount of police procedure here, and some insight into how these forensic scientists go about finding clues in a handful of bones or bone fragments. But it's also a traditional mystery, with considerable fair play and some very nicely hidden clues. And there's a lot of humor - sometimes very dark, to be sure, but also quite funny. I thoroughly enjoyed "Make No Bones," and I'm looking forward to meeting Aaron Elkins and hearing him speak at Malice Domestic.