Aaron Elkins’ “Skeleton Dance”

This novel has a lot to offer the mystery fan.  Gideon Oliver, globally known as the “Bone Doctor” is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Washington in Seattle.  He and his wife Julie, on sabatical in the Dordogne, France, become embroiled in a mid-Paleolithic disputation betwixt members of a local anthropological institution over the creative instincts of Neanderthals.  The argument centers on whether, like Cro-Magnons, they are actually ancestors of Home Sapiens.

A skeleton has been discovered, buried in a local Abri(a shallow limestone cave) and controversy has risen over the age and identity of the victim.  A slate of learned professionals is under suspicion and only the fabled Bone Doctor (with the assistance of inspector Joly) will ultimately reveal the dastardly perpetrator!

I’ve read a few books about the travails and accomplishments of the good doctor and this is one of the better ones, imo…  Elkins is a skilled and polished author.  He maintains a relatively high level as regards clarity of prose and he conveys a benignant ambiance that carries the reader’s interest along through the tangled fabric of his plot.  He includes periodic reference and elegant descriptions;  for instance:

“In a single instant, out of nowhere, a whole series of isolated disconnected details, meaningless until now, had suddenly spun about and clicked unexpectedly together into a recognizable – an unmistakable – whole.”  I like this because it’s reminiscent of Henri Poincare’s stepping into a Parisian bus and simultaneously, eidetically, having the “anomorphic functions of a complex variable invariant” spring full – blown into his consciousness.  Not that i have the vaguest idea of what this might be, but i recalled the episode, if not the mathematics…

The attention of the reader,m in other references, is asked to consider Occam:  “Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily”, and Goldstein’s “Law of Interconnected Monkey Business”.  Playing against each other, these two precepts constitute an important element in the plot.

Another factoid of which I was unaware, was the story of George Psalmazar, an 18th C. charlatan and associate of Dr. Johnson, who, known in London society as “The Formosan”, invented and successfully promulgated a complete sociological analysis and description (made up of whole cloth) of the Formosan Islanders in order to capture the attention (and money) of the local cognoscenti.

So, if a reader finds this sort of goings-on interesting, i’d highly recommend the book.


9 thoughts on “Aaron Elkins’ “Skeleton Dance””

  1. I’ve always liked Elkins’ writing, Mudpuddle, including his Gideon Oliver series. I think Oliver is a well-written character, and the mysteries are solid, in my opinion. Glad you found things to like about this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. i looked in the library today for some of G. Benford’s works… they didn’t have any of the galactic center books; i’m going to buy them all at Abebooks, i think… i did get a copy of Russell Hoban’s Kleinzeit, which i’ll get to pretty soon here… we have a lousy library…


  2. I have only read the first three in this series, my son read a few more of them. You make this one sound really good, I should go back and read more of them.


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