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Thursday, February 25, 2016
4:56 pm est
Aaron Elkins and his wife,
Charlotte, and I first became acquaintances and occasional correspondents about three years ago when I received an advanced
copy of A Cruise to Die For, the second in their Alix London mystery series. Previously not normally a devotee of suspense – I really
have to be in the mood to read one – I instantly became a fan. Not so much of the genre, but of the writers…and
their writing; collectively and separately. For, you see, besides his literary collaboration with Charlotte, Aaron is the
three-time award-winning author of the eighteen-volume Gideon Oliver Mystery Series whose most amazing, true-too-life eponymous
title character is his literary alter-ego.
Like the fictitious Gideon, Aaron in real life is a professor and
practitioner of forensic anthropology**. He brings his vast expertise and actual experiences to his literary endeavors, constantly
imparting his knowledge of not only anthropology but other more esoteric subjects through enlightening and scintillating descriptions
and dialogue that moves the gripping plot along at a reasonably fast pace to what is nearly always a tantalizing surprise
ending. The all-too engrossing Switcheroo (A Gideon Oliver Mystery), the latest of Elkins’ talented-washed repertoire of engrossing forensic mystery adventures, is no exception.
And what an adventure this novel is – not so much a swash-buckler, but, true to form, an riveting intellectual mind-bend,
one of the more delightful hallmarks of a Elkins literary jaunt.
In June of 1940, when Nazi Germany was about
to occupy the Channel Island of Jersey (part of the United Kingdom just off the coast of France), Howard Carlisle, the scion
of a wealthy family, “trades” Roddy, his frail two-year-old son, for two-year-old George Skinner, whose family
is about to evacuate to England. The trade is made, legal and binding. The children are subsequently reunited with their real
birth parents when the Skinners return after World War II. Pretty straightforward…until twenty or so years later, Roddy
disappears and George’s body is found shot near his home, apparently murdered. Enter Gideon Oliver fifty years later
who, at the behest of Howard’s great grandson, is asked to examine Roddy’s bone fragments that have been unearthed
from the island’s tar pits to determine the cause of death…
What Oliver discovers by studying the
bones and what is revealed to him by the set of circumstances surrounding them could easily be a fairly benign conceit. But
in Elkins’ capable hands and creative imagination, tinged with his refreshing tongue-in-cheek delight in telling a good
tale, this plot line premise takes on a mind of its own. Riddled with unique unexpected twists and turns, deftly hinted at
with subtle clues well-placed in character comments and observations, this is the stuff which separates a great mystery –
à la Erle Stanley Gardner and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – from second-rate schlock suspense. Elkins, as always,
is at his (and the) best here, raising the forensic mystery genre to the highest pinnacle of elegant entertainment and erudition.
(Actually, Aaron was the founder of this specific literary niche in the 1980s with the publication of Fellowship of Fear, the first in his Gideon Oliver series!)
Reminiscent of the BBC/PBS TV mini-series Island at War and
the delightful The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Switcheroo is definitely this spring season’s must-read page-turner.
Make no bones about it.
J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is
an author, poet, and librettist. Her currenty published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations,
volumes of poetry, stories
for children (of all ages) and
a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:
Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville
during World War II
Rainbow in the Sky
Meditations for New Members
of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A
Collection of More Spiritual Poems
We Three Kings
Beauty and the Beast
Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding
Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She
is currently working on her fourth novel.