Skeleton Dance

Aaron Elkins, Author William Morrow & Company $23 (256p) ISBN 978-0-688-15928-3
Academic infighting, at once comically petty and deadly serious, is the subject of Elkins's terrific follow-up to Old Bones, winner of the 1988 Edgar Award for best novel. This time, celebrated Seattle ""skeleton detective"" Gideon Oliver travels to the quaint French village of Les Eyzies to aid police in the identification of some human bones. At first, the bones were thought to be prehistoric fossils, common enough in a town famous for its Paleolithic caves and the world-class Institut de Pr histoire. But closer examination reveals the deceased to have been murdered sometime within the past five years, possibly by someone linked to the institute. Gideon, now on sabbatical leave from his professorship to write a book on scientific bloopers, begins interviewing the institute's five French and American members about a notorious archeological hoax perpetrated by the former director, elusive American Ely Carpenter. The more Gideon learns about the hoax, the more he's convinced of a connection to the unidentified bones. When Gideon is attacked and the bones stolen, it's clear that one of the five scientists is responsible--probably for murder, as well. Every suspect is a full-blown comic creation capable of surprise, from the absent-minded Jacques Beaupierre, who crosses the street ""somewhat in the manner of a soft-bodied sea creature undulating over the ocean floor,"" to the pompous mile Grize, who affects bow ties depicting ""egg yolks exploding in a microwave oven."" Mischievous wit, fascinating erudition, juicy (but never mean-spirited) academic gossip and a gorgeous setting redolent with Gitanes and goose liver combine to make this mystery an especially delectable treat. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
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