An entertaining mystery about a Mayan curse

mayan curseNow 41 years of age and happily married for two years, Gideon Oliver is a tenured professor of physical anthropology at a university near Seattle. He is known far and wide as “the Skeleton Doctor” for his work in forensic anthropology with the FBI. As Curses! opens, Gideon is between terms and feeling restless. He has been imprisoned behind his desk for far too long, writing academic papers that practically nobody will ever read. Then he receives a call from his onetime professor and ongoing mentor, Abe Goldstein (nee Avram Yitzchak Goldstein of Minsk).


Curses! (Gideon Oliver #5) by Aaron Elkins

@@@@ (4 out of 5)


Together with his wife Julie, Gideon drops his latest scholarly article in mid-draft and flies to the Yucatan to help Abe with a problem that has arisen at a Mayan dig. The site, Tlaloc, had been closed in 1982 after a scandalous incident that Gideon and Abe themselves observed. At the time, the Mexican Institute of Anthropology declared the closure permanent. But now, five years later, Abe has persuaded them to allow him and his team to reopen the site. Still, the shadow of the scandal looms large. In 1982, shortly after the discovery there of only the fourth Mayan codex (book) anywhere, both the director of the project and the codex disappeared. Two years later a letter arrived from the director bragging about stealing the book. Now, Abe has asked Gideon for help because the team has unexpectedly turned up a skeleton.

Quickly, the plot thickens. The dig progresses and Gideon gradually moves closer toward identifying the remains. Soon the 16th-century Mayan curse that hangs over the site begins to come true. Gideon is nearly murdered, and later a freelance journalist hanging about the site is brutally killed. The Mexican police enter the scene. Suspicion falls on all the volunteers, and the story devolves into a whodunit, the least creative form of the murder mystery. Normally I find whodunits tedious. But Elkins displays an impressive knowledge of forensic anthropology and ancient Mexican history that rescued me from boredom. In the final analysis, Curses! is entertaining.

About the author

Gideon Oliver is a forensic anthropologist, but Aaron Elkins is not. He has held many jobs in his life but has been writing fiction since 1978. His first novel, the inaugural volume in the Gideon Oliver series, was published in 1982. Curses! is one of his 33 novels and the fifth in the Gideon Oliver series. An American, Elkins lives with his wife in Washington State.

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