Old bones hold the key to a WWII mystery

WWII

Old bones turn up buried under paving stones in the basement of a French villa in 1986. The detective in charge of the case is conveniently located nearby at a week-long police conference on forensic anthropology. There, Dr. Gideon Oliver, an American anthropologist known as the “Skeleton Doctor,” is a featured lecturer. Gideon accompanies the detective to the site of the discovery, where he discovers that the bones constitute only one-third of a complete skeleton.

Meanwhile, in the villa above, the far-flung du Rocher family is gathered to find out why the patriarch has summoned them. As Gideon struggles to learn more from the bones, intense conflict breaks out among the family. The bones appear to have been buried during World War II — and in some way they may be related to the conflict within the family upstairs. Then the aging patriarch turns up dead, a victim of drowning in the ocean, and one of his presumed heirs is murdered.


Old Bones (Gideon Oliver #4) by Aaron Elkins @@@@ (4 out of 5)

Winner of the Edgar Award for Best Novel


Two investigations now proceed simultaneously: Gideon’s pursuit of the truth about the bones, and the detective’s attempt to establish the motive — and the identity — of the murderer. Naturally, the two investigations merge in due course. The novel evolves into a twisted tale of the Nazi occupation and the French Resistance.

In some respects, Old Bones is a thoroughly traditional murder mystery, with a limited cast of suspects and a shrewd detective on the hunt for the truth. However, the complex backstory, set in World War II, lends a second and far more interesting dimension to the book. The story is suspenseful to the end.

About the author

In addition to the eighteen novels in the Gideon Oliver series, Aaron Elkins has written fourteen other mystery novels. Interestingly, his degrees — a B.A., M.A., and Ed.D. — are in the arts and education. Though he taught anthropology at some point in his career, Elkins is not a forensic anthropologist. He won the Edgar Award for Best Novel for Old Bones.

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