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Old 10-14-2011, 03:49 PM   #11033
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Amazingly, the weather continues to be nice and we have a break from the usual torrential rains.

Accordingly, I've now finished #11-16 of Gideon Oliver, Intrepid Globe-Trotting Forensic Anthropologist series by Aaron Elkins which I got in paper copies from the library on Wednesday.

I should probably mention at this point that for anyone looking for fairly good reads for a very low price, #1-10 of the series are available DRM-free and dirt-cheap via Fictionwise, where I personally picked mine up at roughly $1.60 each during a deep-discount coupon sale. If you only want to try one, get #4 Old Bones, which is the best of the lot and worth reading in its own right as a standalone, even if you choose not to continue with the series.

Anyway, from #10 onward, there seems to be a bit more lead-in to establish the background of whatever the case may be, so now there's generally a few chapters in front devoted to establishing motivations for the murders instead of tending to dump Gideon straight into an investigation*. Sometimes this works well, sometimes it doesn't, depending on the nature of the case and the personalities involved. If they're annoying people, you start to think "Hurry up and die already. Aargh, why can't you kill faster?! Dammit, you killed the wrong one!!"

Also, there are more recurring guest characters, with people from previous books showing up again in some of the newer books, but in a non-spoilery way which still keeps the books standalone. Previous cases the GCs were involved in are not discussed at all, beyond a brief mention that so-and-so had been enjoyable company during the Norwegian boat tour, or was astonished that Gideon was able to identify a skeleton as a left-handed bricklayer who'd been in the Navy from the pattern of wear on the bones. So no need to worry about having the outcome of #5 recapped for you in #12 in terms of the victims and culprits being revealed in detail.

Elkins seems to be varying the style of these a little more, which helps keep the series looking fresh when read all in one go (as well as alternating between using the Friendly FBI Agent and the Significant Other as down-to-earth foils for Gideon's professorial tendencies so that the books don't just seem to have the same old cast transplanted to various locales all the time), although there are some repeated writing tics which do show up.

Tip #3) When the Significant Other idly asks questions regarding the case so far and expounds a not-so-far-fetched hypothesis on who/what might have dunnit and you tell her that based on your professional understanding of certain things that it's entirely impossible for it to even remotely be that way, you will be very wrong indeed. So will she, but she'll have often hit more into the ballpark area of what happened with her speculative guessing that you have with your learnèd assertations and you should start paying attention one of these years.

In order of enjoyability/recommendation:

#16 Skull Duggery: a visit to the Significant Other's relatives inadvertently involves Gideon not only in family drama, but also an unusual fresh mummified murder case which then leads to an unusual old one. At first it seems a bit too contrived and coincidental, but then it turns out to all fit together in a rather coherent way. A guest character from #5 shows up.

#14 Unnatural Selection: mockery of pseudo-scientific presentations, academic slapfighting, curmudgeonly yet competent law enforcement officials, and helpful British redheads, what's not to love? Some very likeable characters and interesting bits about How Sniffer Dogs Find Stuff. GC from #4 shows up.

#13 Tiny Little Teeth: more academic slapfighting and some very funny moments on a mixed tourism testing/botanical exploration trip down the Amazon river where things inevitably go wrong. GC from #8 & #11 shows up.

#15 Uneasy Relations: nicely written, but interesting mainly for the palaeoanthropological stuff about Neanderthals/human relations and the accompanying academic implications. And twitting the good Dr. Oliver about the increased mass-market appeal of his pop-science book when properly sensationalized, to his horror. But bonus points for him finally learning to lock up and hide the bones and set up a decoy location for the would-be thieves to plunder in their absentia. And it only took him 15 books to do so! GCs who were murder suspects from #10 show up.

#12 Where There's A Will: so-so family drama where the investigative side of things is really just an adjunct to the dysfunctional family dynamic. Gets an extra point for more background on John Lau, Intrepid Globe-Trotting FBI Agent Who Sometimes Calls In Favours, but really, the final outcome of this seems rather contrived, although the what-finally-really-happened-at-the-scene-of-the-original-crime is moderately interesting for sheer "well, that's much more messed up than what we'd hypothesized previously".

#11 Good Blood: more dysfunctional family drama which makes the good Dr. Oliver basically a guest star in his own series. Okay for a change of pace, but not really very interesting in its own right. GC from #8 who also later shows up in #13.

* Or having some old bones fortuitously show up while he's on vacation, thus leading to further attempted murders to cover up their actual provenance, which is something which would make me leery of leaving the house in case relatively un-guilty persons got killed for my professional perusal.

But then the killers would probably start offing my neighbours instead. Which could be a good way to get rid of the irritating neighbours, but then the nice ones would probably be murdered first, and even more irritating neighbours move in to take their place.
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