Forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver and his wife Julie have planned a relaxing four-week European jaunt that will allow Gideon to collect material for his upcoming book. But when a local dog digs up some very tasty--and very modern--human bones at a prehistoric site in the French Dordogne, Gideon gets a call for deductive assistance from old friend Inspector Lucien Joly. It appears that the bones are connected to the Institut de Préhistoire, epicenter of the academic debate on the proper place of Neanderthals in the progression of human evolution.
Years ago, the Institut's director, Ely Carpenter, found startling archaeological evidence that Neanderthal Man was a sensitive being with an appreciation of beauty and art: when that evidence was exposed as a fraud, Carpenter committed suicide. Or did he? These days, the remaining members of the Institut are still at dagger's (or perhaps Middle Paleolithic Acheulian cordiform hand ax's) edge. Half of them argue for the Neanderthals as card-carrying Homo sapiens, and the other half want to fling them from the family tree altogether. The academic debate is vicious, indeed--but when more bodies start to appear, Gideon must dig deep into layers of personal animosity and professional rivalry to determine which of his anthropological colleagues has more than a monograph at stake.
Aaron Elkins is the author of a number of Gideon Oliver mysteries, including the Edgar Award-winning Old Bones. It is a tribute to his skill that the dusty fragments of bone at the heart of this latest outing will capture his readers' interest, and that the ramifications of a scientific dispute seem the perfect motive for murder. Skeleton Dance carries as well all the touches that have made his previous novels successful: a genial protagonist who wavers between sharp-eyed precision and absent-minded obliviousness; an assortment of well-drawn minor characters (though their foibles may be sketched a bit too broadly, as Elkins stretches for a touch of humor); and a cozy evocation of local atmosphere. If the music of Skeleton Dance is a tune we've heard before, and the steps are a trifle well-worn, it doesn't really matter; Elkins is such a skilled partner that we'll find ourselves tapping our feet and turning the pages in easy rhythm. --Kelly Flynn [via]