*I received this book from NetGalley in return for a fair review.*
by Aaron Elkins
Date: February 16 2016
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Series: Gideon Oliver (18th in series)
Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0
Read: January 21 to 22 2016
My 22nd solo author book by Aaron Elkins (not counting the six I read that he wrote with his wife). And 18th Gideon Oliver book.
I'll start off by noting something that troubled me at the beginning. Well, the beginning of the Gideon section. This is a series that began some time around 1982. There is a seemingly big point made about how Gideon Oliver is 42 in this book (or was it 43? one or the other). Reinforced when it is mentioned that his FBI buddy is only one year older. I have some vague idea that both were in that first book, but I could be mistaken.
Fellowship of Fear being that first book. That book appeared 34 years ago. Which means that Gideon Oliver would have been 8 years old in this first book. 8. Or at least the Gideon Oliver in Switcheroo would have been. The Gideon Olvier in that first book was not, in fact, 8.
It is true that there are series wherein the character might age during the run of the series, but at an altered rate. A rate wherein the character, over a 30 year period, might age about . . . oh, 5, 10 years. I understand that fact. There are also series where the character never ages. At all. It is just . . . I kind of wanted to enter this specific book with an older man, distinguished, respected, experienced. By making him 42 instead of, say, 52 (which still wouldn't work with a series that has been out for 34 years, but still . . .), it kind of undercuts everything that came before.
I do not mean to harp on this specific issue. It just . . . bugged me. Somewhere along the way, though, I allowed myself to take the current series number, 18, divide it by half, and pretend that the series books are about 6 months apart chronologically. Meaning that only 9 years passed from first book to 18th book. Meaning, that 42 might actually work. With that out of the way, I moved past this age issue and continued. (One last point, and probably the real reason I went so deep into this issue - I've been reading this series for 26 or so years. To find a guy who was a huge number of years older than me when I started the series, and then find this same man appear in a book at roughly the same age as I am now . . . to find myself in this situation, was kind of horrifying, truthfully).
Right. Other than age, everyone who is a regular, Julie the wife, John the FBI friend, Gideon Oliver the skeleton detective, all operated within the parameters previously set for these series regulars. Nice and comfortable, in its way. No one grew over the course of the book, no one expanded. Just . . . there. Like a comfortable rock.
The others were detailed enough for their roles. I kind of wonder what it might have been like if Elkins had written more stand alone novels, because some of these 'other' characters he created actually showed some rather neat deeper than expected characterization. Well, at least the ones who were in the beginning of the book.
To start with - the book opens in 1940 with some characters wandering around the English Channel Island of Jersey. Stressing, mightily, over the fact that 'Winnie' has given up the islands to the Germans. Winnie being Churchill. The troops have been removed. The islands are left for the Germans to swoop in and take if they want. And they do want.
Apparently the idea of removing civilians hadn't really been a consideration. Until it was. But in a really hurried way. Announcement came, people had to decide basically immediately if they would leave the island. And one specific family found themselves in a tricky situation. One of the richest people on the island, a Howard Carlisle, if I recall correctly, felt it was his duty to stay his post. Until . . . he remembered his very sickly son. But he remembered too late. After efforts to get his family off the island after registration had closed, Carlisle turned to his brother-in-law. And made a deal. They'd swap kids. Skinner's kid was quite healthy, while his own was sickly. His own wouldn't last an occupation, while George, the Skinner kid, would. So swap.
Book then jumps five years later to 1945 when the Skinner family returned to Jersey island. Then time passed through several news articles, news articles mentioning some issues involving the Roddy Carlisle (that young sickly son) and George Skinner (and a third guy). Then mention of George's death. Then mention of Roddy's body being found. This being roughly 1964 or so.
Book then leaps forward to 2015 to Gideon Oliver and his wife Julie (and friend John) in Spain. As somewhat usual with these types of books, specifically meaning Oliver books, Gideon is at a conference. He is a student, though, and therefore very bored.
An old friend bumps into Gideon, they get to talking, and Rafe Carlisle invites Gideon to come to Jersey to look at some old bones. There is this murder mystery to be solved, a really old one. Gideon jumps at the chance.
And so, Gideon looks at some bones. Julie wanders the island playing tourist. John does . . . um . . . whatever it is John does (seemingly eat everything around him, since he is away from his wife).
The mystery is actually quite interesting. Difficult to mention completely without going into spoiler territory, but there are some things I can mention. In the 1960s, the Carlisle paving company was doing quite well. Then, suddenly, it was found out that some of this success was made through corruption. Plus, there's this embezzlement plot. Charges are going to be brought against two men. When, poof, one of the two men is dead. George Skinner. Suspicion turns to Roddy Carlisle and another man, a really smart fella with maths. Then, five years later, bones are found in the Carlisle tar pits. The police, at the time, decide that it's the two missing men.
This is the mystery Gideon is asked to look into. He goes into it after first noting that there might not be anything he can find out. He is just applying modern forensic science to some bones. Science that didn't exist in the '60s. As kind of expected, he finds more than he personally thought he would, and suddenly causes a chain of events to unfold and shock and aw all.
I'm rather glad I saw this book on NetGalley. While it is true that I have read every Gideon Oliver book Elkins has put out, and most of his other books as well, it is also true that I haven't exactly enjoyed many of the later Oliver books. And the most recent book I had read by Elkins, A Dangerous Talent, I only gave two stars to. Sure, that's not an Oliver book, but the last bunch of those I gave no more than 3 stars to.
So, again, I'm glad I saw this book on NetGalley. Because I probably would have figured I was done with Elkins. But I did see it on there. And so I took a chance on the book and am quite happy that I did. Because this is actually a rather good book. A four star (out of 5) book.
January 22 2016