Thursday, June 9, 2011

Crime Fiction Alphabet - Letter U is for UNEASY RELATIONS and UNNATURAL SELECTION, both by Aaron Elkins

Aaron Elkins is a helluva writer. I've been reading his work for years so I feel free enough to say that good and loud. He's been churning out the Gideon Oliver, 'skeleton detective' mysteries since forever, making it all look easy - which we all know is a talent in itself. There are lots of terrific Gideon Oliver books to choose from. Elkins is also the writer of the Chris Norgren, art history mysteries of which, unfortunately there are only a few. He has also written several 'stand-alone' books, one of which, LOOT is on my list of All Time Favorite Books. (You've probably heard me rave about LOOT now and again on this blog.) AND as if that weren't enough, he also writes, with his wife Charlotte Elkins, a golf-mystery series. Does the man never sleep?

Because this is an entry in the Crime Fiction Alphabet Community Meme, hosted by Kerrie Smith over at her blog MYSTERIES IN PARADISE, and we are currently up to the Letter U - the nitty-gritty of the alphabet coming up - I'll concentrate today on the two books shown at the top of the post: UNNATURAL SELECTON and UNEASY RELATIONS. Does Elkins have a way with book titles or what? He is also fortunate in that his publisher has a great design staff doing the covers.

If you are not familiar with these books, then I say: get familiar. You might probably want to read the Gideon Oliver books in order, but really, it's not necessary. The main thrust of the books never changes even if Professor Oliver's marital status does. These are not books about Oliver's personal life so much as they are elegant whodunits in the Golden Age style. Mysteries with a beginning, a middle and an end in which, usually, the bad guy is either done for or gets carted off to jail. One of several reasons why I find these books so much fun to read and, in the end, utterly satisfying as mysteries.

Go here to see the entire list of Aaron Elkins' prolific output.  

In UNNATURAL SELECTION (2006) we find Gideon Oliver - a forensics expert known as 'the skeleton detective' - and his park ranger, wildfire-expert wife, Julie, at a conservation gig in the magical (and to me, totally unfamiliar) Isles of Scilly off the British coast of Cornwall. They have been invited to a conference at Star Castle, home of Russian expatriate, Vasily Kozlov, scientist and eccentric millionaire. (Is there any other kind?)

When a bone is discovered in one of the island's neolithic sites, it is assumed to be, well, a 'neolithic' find. Until Gideon takes a look and deduces that the bone is a more modern sample - it is murder yet again. Luckily, the likeable Gideon Oliver,  a most cerebral and celebrated forensics detective is on the case.

In UNEASY RELATIONS (2008) We again find Gideon and Julie in an unfamiliar setting (part of the easy charm of these books) - the Rock of Gibraltar. Anthropologists and Paleolithic archaeologists have been arguing for years over whether Neanderthal and Homo Sapien co-existed side by side around 25,000 years ago.

When a sensational find is made: a skeleton of a woman holding a part-Neanderthal child found in a cave on Gibraltar, the scientific world is amazed. At a conference anniversary celebrating the find, Gideon Oliver is on hand at the current excavation when murder most modern enters the fray.

I continue to recommend these books and the other assorted and terrific writings of Aaron Elkins.


  1. Hello Yvette:
    Clearly we have been missing a treat as Aaron Elkins was, until now, completely unknown to us. By all accounts, it sounds as if we have many a good read in store when we finally track him down. Once we return to Brighton, this will be one of our first jobs!

  2. Oh, you're in for some really good reading then, Jane and Lance. You know, I used to think I'd read just about everything (ha!) until I began blogging and realized just how many books there were, floating about out there, that I'd never read - many, I'd never even heard of.

    I like to think of my life herein as 'playing catch-up'. :)

  3. Gosh, where have I been? I've never read Elkins' books.

    I'll look for these at the library and put them on my TBR list.

    Are they witty?

    Whenever I read blogs on reading, new authors (to me) pop up. Whenever I go to Fantastic Fiction to find out about an author's writings, I find authors I've not only never read, but never even heard of.

    I will add a few of these this summer, as I read more about Archie and the gang, Inspector Montalbano, and perhaps revisit Venice with the Brunettis. (Although I've read all of these, it's like Nero Wolfe to me, can reread although I don't think I'll hit a binge).

    Have found two friends of mine are Wolfe fiends, so this should be fun this summer, swapping books, laughing.

    There is nothing as good to get out of a bad mood other than a witty book (and I'm assume in your case, a grandchild).

  4. A question? Have you read Elly Griffiths mysteries, set on the East Coast of England, featuring Ruth Galloway, a middle-aged anthropology professor?

    She does not know karate, carry a gun, wear snazzy clothes, is not glamorous or gorgeous.

    She is a regular person.

    The Crossing Places was first, which is very good. Then The Janus Stone. The third one, House at Sea's End is out, but not over here across the pond yet.

  5. Kathy: It's always amazing to me that as long as Aaron Elkins has been writing and as many books as he's published, there are still many people who've not only never read him, but have never heard of him. Shows to go you that it's a much bigger world than we might think it is. Although I make the mistake sometimes of thinking that the mystery community is a small exclusive part of it. HA!

    Even though the Gideon Oliver books are often set in 'exotic' places, I'd classify them as 'sort of cozy'. Very cool-headed and often cerebral mysteries with a touch of fun. Gideon is just a nice, down-to-earth kind of guy. Someone you'd definitely want to know. Great summer reading, I'd say.

  6. Kathy: As for Ellie Griffiths - see? Here's someone I've never heard of. I'll check out her books. Thanks for the tip.

    I'm still re-reading a Nero Wolfe here and there, usually during lunch. But I think I'm getting near the end of the binge.

    Maybe some Perry Mason books by Earl Stanley Gardner are next. :)
    Wait till you hear what I brought home from the library.

    Library Loot list coming on on Monday!

  7. Library loot! Great.

    I need to pick up mine on Monday. I believe "Over my Dead Body," is part of that batch ... oh, there goes part of my week immersed in that.

    I read Perry Mason books decades ago and I tried to watch some of the tv shows with Raymond Burr, it didn't click.

    There's lots of good newer books to try out there. I cannot keep up ever.

  8. I may have to ask my neighbor to hide "Over my Dead Body," until I finish needed tasks. Once I open it, forget any productivity here.

    I meant to say I tried to watch Perry Mason reruns recently, but it didn't click.

    My family grew up watching those tv shows and any and all legal or detective shows, like Dragnet, The Defenders, along with Perry Mason.

  9. None of us can ever keep up. I've tried, believe. It can't be done. All we can do is tread water. :)

    Hope you enjoy your books. I know I will be busy enjoying my own libtary loot.


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