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Old 10-12-2011, 08:53 PM   #11022
ATDrake
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Posts: 7,034
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Join Date: Mar 2010
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So having had inclement weather for the past week or so, I put a decent-sized dent in my paid-but-not-read e-book purchases and read #2-10 of Aaron Elkins's Gideon Oliver, Intrepid Globe-Trotting Forensic Anthropologist series.

The books did indeed get better from a promising but not exceptional starter volume, although I think the best stories seem to be at the mid-point of what I've read of the series so far.

It's one of those series you'll either like after the 3rd volume or not, because by then the main cast of characters and their relationships are solidly established, with not much variance in their interactions or personality quirks or even living situations after that and the status quo pretty much remains as it is, for better or worse.

As a matter of fact, you could quite comfortably read almost all the volumes standalone and out of order after a certain point, as there's very little back-reference to previous cases (at least not in a spoilery "remember that time when…?" "yeah, and this is just like that!" sort of way which implies that You Have Missed Out if you don't read them all in the exact order).

Nonetheless, there are some repeated elements you'd think the characters would learn from, after having them literally pounded into their skulls practically every book.

Tip #1) When you are making a forensic investigation related to a suspected homicide and have received an open death threat or other "accidental" close call, it is not a good idea to go out late at night on your own because you just wanted to clear your head. You are likely to get it bashed in, instead.

It is especially not a good idea to keep doing that after it happened in the previous book, and the one before, and the one prior to that, and so forth.

But to be fair, probably the good Dr. Oliver has lost sufficient of what Mr. Poirot terms "the little grey cells" to this that his long-term memory is kind of shot when it comes to remembering these things at an interval of "every year, another dead body".

Tip #2) If you do not lock up the bones you have found immediately under the tightest security, then someone will try to steal them before you are done investigating them, or before you can conclusively demonstrate your findings to the skeptical authoritative persons who need to be convinced of them.

The good Dr. Oliver really ought to learn to not only hide the bones, but also create papier-maché decoys and set up makeshift laboratory traps with nets and hidden cameras so that when the inevitable attempt at theft occurs, they can all have a good point and laugh at the culprit whodunnit live on Candid Camera.

Anyway, generally recommended if you think you'll like moderately fun mysteries heavily reliant on the Your Mileage May Vary charmingly quirky interactions of Moderately Pedantic Enthusiastically Uxorious Intrepid Impromptu Forensic Crime Consultant Slash Action Anthropologist Man™ and chock-full of mini-lectures on How Bones Get Those Marks Which Indicate Cause Of Death When They Haven't Been Stolen Because They Weren't Properly Locked Up.

Best books in the series:

#4 Old Bones won an Edgar award, and deservedly so. A very engaging mystery with lots of twists and turns relating a WWII-era murder to a more modern one and done in a way which ties everything together very nicely.

#5 Curses! is lots of fun, with a self-involved tourist dig at an ancient Maya site and everyone in the party trying to put their own spin on the seeming curse plaguing (and offing) them.

#8 Twenty Blue Devils has an awesome hilarious deadpan opening set up for the suspected murder. Plus we get to find out more about the background of supporting cast member John Lau, Intrepid Globe-Trotting FBI Agent Who Sometimes Calls In Favours. And the shopping list of common household supermarket cleanser products you, too, can use to do impromptu forensic anthropology work under DIY conditions : is brilliant.

Also quite good:

#3 Murder in the Queen's Armes: a little melodramatic with the chase over the moors and such, but a clever setup and unfolding of the whodunnit and the clues which brought them down. And this is where the series really starts to settle in, so if the first 2 books (in my opinion, okay to skip unless you really want the backstory of how the relationships with the Significant Other, the Friendly FBI Agent, and the Eccentric Old Mentor were established before you go any further) didn't grab you, this is the one by which you'll know whether or not you want to continue.

#7 Make No Bones: motive for the whodunnit is a bit meh, but the howdunnit is very clever indeed, and it's got the bonus of being set among an anthropologist's conference with everyone being experts trying to either figure things out or muddle the waters.

#8 Dead Men's Hearts: a bit of a tribute to the Amelia Peabody books, I think. Acknowledgments give thanks to Barbara Mertz aka Elizabeth Peters. There's some Peabody-esque chase-in-deserted-dig-sites and shoot-outs and of course it's centred around dodgy antiquities finds among respected archaeologists and going undercover as a cunning Master of Disguise rank amateur with serious consequences. Sadly, no exorcisms or redheads suspected of being evil because the evil god Set was a redhead, hrmm?

As for the remaining 3, they're decently written and very readable, but #6 Icy Clutches really has mainly the Alaskan scenery tour to recommend it beyond the double mystery to solve of murder in both past and present (whodunnit okay but a little contrived), #2 The Dark Place is still very much finding its footing and a little over-the-top with the reveal (slightly too melodramatic in terms of who and what the characters are and how they're dealt with, plus you could easily spot who one of them was actually supposed to be), and #10 Skeleton Dance is a nice re-visit to some characters seen in #4, but otherwise a fairly standard tale with nothing particularly special in terms of setting or mystery to recommend it beyond that.

I've currently what looks like the remainder of Elkins' Oliver mysteries out from the library in paper copies. Of course, now that I've gotten them it'll probably start to rain again and I'll have to go back to reading some more of my e-book purchases on the bus.
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