I read this book for the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge 2015. The challenge is to read 6 or more Vintage Mysteries. All novels must have been originally written between 1960 and 1989 inclusive and be from the mystery category.
I read this for the category “V-1 Set in a Country House:”
Old Bones – Aaron Elkins
The fourth installment of Elkins’ Gideon Oliver series won the 1987 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Mystery of the Year. It’s easy to see why because it’s a readable blend of cozy elements.
The story takes places in France so there are numerous digressions about food and scenery. Le Mont-Saint-Michel, an island commune in Normandy, was neatly described.
The vocabulary is intelligent without being recondite a la Michael Innes or cute with big words like Rex Stout. Gideon is a physical anthropologist so readers can absorb forensic knowledge.
Gideon plays the gifted amateur who always stumbles upon cases, becoming the traditional pain in the neck of the local cops. He has a sidekick, a noble savage named John Lau, FBI agent. He has a nice wife that calls to mind the marital bliss in Patricia Moyes’ Tibbet-Emmy tales.
Romance blooms between two shy people that only needed travel to find their soul mate. The story takes routine twists and turns until the final surprise reveals how the past haunts the present.
Gideon is lecturing to the police on the latest forensic techniques, though he tries to play down his reputation as the Skeleton Detective of America. The village rich family has two big problems. An unlikeable in-law is done in with cyanide (Dame Agatha would love the inclusion of “smells of bitter almonds”). And a set of bones is found in the basement.
If I sound a little less enthusiastic than usual, like I’m ticking items off on a checklist, it’s because I found this rather by the numbers. Aside from the predictability, I found nothing wrong with it. But I doubt whether I will read another one in this series. When I want escapist fantasy, I’ll turn to Erle Stanley Gardner, whose Perry Mason in the Swinging Sixties is as incongruous and out of time as Murder in a Country Mansion in the late 1980s.