Elkins, Aaron 1935–
Elkins, Aaron 1935–
(Aaron J. Elkins)
Born July 24, 1935, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Irving Abraham (a machinist) and Jennie Elkins; married Toby Siev, 1959 (divorced, 1972); married Charlotte Trangmar (a writer), 1972; children: (first marriage) Laurence, Robin. Education: Hunter College (now of the City University of New York), B.A., 1956; graduate study at University of Wisconsin—Madison, 1957-59; University of Arizona, M.A., 1960; California State University, Los Angeles, M.A., 1962; University of California, Berkeley, Ed.D., 1976.
Writer, educator, and anthropologist. Government of Los Angeles County, CA, personnel analyst, 1960-66; Government of Orange County, CA, training director, 1966-69; Santa Ana College, Santa Ana, CA, instructor in anthropology and business, 1969-70; Ernst & Whinney, Chicago, IL, management consultant, 1970-71; Government of Contra Costa County, CA, director of management development, 1971-76, 1980-83; University of Maryland at College Park, European Division, Heidelberg, West Germany, lecturer in anthropology, psychology, and business, 1976-78, lecturer in business, 1984-85; U.S. Office of Personnel Management, San Francisco, CA, management analyst, 1979-80; writer, 1984—. Lecturer at California State University, Hayward and Fullerton, and at Golden Gate University.
Mystery Writers of America.
Edgar Allan Poe Award for best mystery novel, Mystery Writers of America, 1988, for Old Bones; (with Charlotte Elkins) Agatha Award for best short story, Malice Domestic Ltd., 1992, for "Nice Gorilla"; Nero Wolfe Award for best mystery novel, 1993, for Old Scores.
"GIDEON OLIVER" SERIES
Fellowship of Fear, Walker & Co. (New York, NY), 1982.
The Dark Place, Walker & Co. (New York, NY), 1983.
Murder in the Queen's Armes, Walker & Co. (New York, NY), 1985.
Old Bones, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1987.
Curses!, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1989.
Icy Clutches, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1990.
Make No Bones, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1991.
Dead Men's Hearts, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1994.
Twenty Blue Devils, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Skeleton Dance, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2000.
Good Blood, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2004.
Where There's a Will, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2005.
Unnatural Selection, Berkley (New York, NY), 2006.
Little Tiny Teeth, Berkeley (New York, NY), 2007.
Uneasy Relations, Berkley (New York, NY), 2008.
"CHRIS NORGREN" SERIES
A Deceptive Clarity, Walker & Co. (New York, NY), 1987.
A Glancing Light, Scribner (New York, NY), 1991.
Old Scores, Scribner (New York, NY), 1993.
"LEE OFSTEAD" SERIES; WITH WIFE, CHARLOTTE ELKINS
A Wicked Slice, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1989.
Rotten Lies, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Nasty Breaks, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Where Have All the Birdies Gone?, Severn House Publishers (Sutton, Surrey, England), 2004.
On the Fringe, Severn House Publishers (Sutton, Surrey, England), 2005.
Loot, William Morrow (New York, NY), 1999.
Turncoat, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor to literary journals and anthologies.
The "Gideon Oliver" books were adapted for television by American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. (ABC), 1989.
Aaron Elkins, the author of mystery novels, often sets his plots in international locations such as Egypt, Tahiti, Mexico, as well as the state of Alaska. Though most famous for his "Gideon Oliver" series, about a forensic anthropologist who solves modern murders, Elkins also created the "Chris Norgren" series, featuring a retired museum curator whose sleuthing solves crimes, and, with his wife, Charlotte Elkins, the "Lee Ofstead" series, novels wherein crimes involve the sport of golf. Elkins is also the author of stand-alone crime novels, including Loot and Turncoat, and his "Gideon Oliver" series was adapted as a television series in the late 1980s.
According to a writer in the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, "Elkins writes exactly the kind of mysteries that have become so enormously popular with readers." The contributor went on to note: "His books are neither cozy nor hard-boiled … but instead fall into that large middle area of the genre that most mystery fans, male and female, now seem to prefer." The writer continued, "Elkins is a superb craftsman, whose plots are ingenious, with every piece fitting perfectly together with every other piece, whose prose is perfectly polished but also perfectly simple and natural, so that each word or turn of phrase seems exactly right—and he does it all so smoothly and unobtrusively that he makes it look easy."
The "Gideon Oliver" series is set all over the world, due to Gideon's occupational need for travel. Several of his adventures begin while he is supposed to be vacationing in an exotic locale. When the series begins in Fellowship of Fear, Gideon is in Germany, and is still in the process of grieving for his late wife, who died in a car accident two years before the novel opens. Through the first several books, Gideon travels through Italy, Spain, Washington state, England, France, and the Yucatan; over the course of the early novels, Gideon realizes he no longer wants to be alone, and in The Dark Place, he meets Julie, the woman who will later become his second wife.
In Old Bones, the fourth novel in the series, Gideon, known as the "skeleton detective," is in France to attend a conference on forensic anthropology. While there, Guillaume du Rocher, a World War II hero of the French Resistance, drowns, and a dismembered human skeleton is unearthed from the cellar of du Rocher's chateau. Local police believe the skeleton is that of a Nazi SS officer du Rocher killed in 1942, but Oliver does not agree. A Publishers Weekly contributor complimented the "intricate plot" and "a thrilling final scene" that "gallops along as fast and compelling as the tide itself," while Sharon Miller of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer called Old Bones "witty and well-plotted."
In the ninth book featuring Gideon Oliver, Twenty Blue Devils, Gideon is in Tahiti investigating the accidental death of a coffee plantation owner. Upon examining the late plantation owner's bones, Gideon declares his death a murder. Marilyn Stasio, writing in the New York Times Book Review, noted that the author does a good job at "extolling the lush splendors of Tahiti."
The next "Gideon Oliver" mystery, Skeleton Dance, was described as "an entertaining and informative excursion through the prehistory and cuisine of rural France," by George Needham in Booklist. In this book Oliver is traveling in France with Julie, conducting research for a book about scientific hoaxes. He is in the process of interviewing five scientists at the Institut de Préhistoire, a renowned archaeological institute, about a hoax carried out by a former director when he is called on by the local police to help identify some human bones that have been unearthed. Forensic examination determines that the bones are not prehistoric fossils, as supposed, but the remains of someone murdered within the last five years and with possible ties to the institute. As Gideon uncovers information about it, he is persuaded that the hoax is connected to the bones. A Publishers Weekly contributor praised the novel's "mischievous wit" and "fascinating erudition," together with "a gorgeous setting redolent with Gitanes and goose liver," all of which result in "an exceptionally delectable treat."
Good Blood takes Gideon and Julie to Italy to visit a friend who is a tour guide. However, their friend's extended family is quite dysfunctional, and when one of the children is kidnapped and the ten-year-old remains of the family's patriarch are discovered under a construction site, Gideon teams up with local police officer Colonnello Tullio Caravale to solve the crime. Calling the series "noteworthy for its witty dialogue and clever plotting," Wes Lukowsky added in a review for Booklist that "Elkins delivers on both counts here." Ann Forister, in her Library Journal review, compli- mented the "well-drawn supporting character, lovely scenery, and a bit of interesting science," while a contributor to Publishers Weekly commented that "the forensic facts Elkins chooses to include and the brisk pace of the plot make for a total success." Pam Johnson in School Library Journal praised the author for "weaving complications into the exotic setting, spicing it up with details of forensic pathology, and adding memorable characters [that] make for an enticing story."
Gideon's next intersection with crime takes place in Hawaii, and is the focus of Where There's a Will. An old family mystery is uncovered when a plane that mysteriously crashed into the ocean in 1994 is discovered by divers. The plane's passenger was one Magnus Torkelsson, whose brother had been murdered on the same night of the crash all those years before. It seems that all the Torkelsson heirs have a motive for making sure both brothers died: the fortune would be passed along to them. With such old tracks, it's up to Gideon and FBI agent (and returning series character) John Lau to discover the truth. "Elkins provides a fabulous 'A' quality level forensic investigative tale," praised Harriet Klausner in her review for the MBR Bookwatch.
Little Tiny Teeth finds Gideon along the Amazon River with a group of scientists and others. Arden Scofield, one of the scientists, has made a fortune due to his recovery of rubber-tree seeds in the Amazon thirty years earlier. The only problem is that he sacrificed the lives of two of his school friends at the time to do so. This time, Scofield is smuggling coca paste. The trip soon turns dangerous, and Gideon must determine who is responsible for the death of one of the botanists, Scofield or Amazon tribesmen out for revenge. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that "Gideon manages a nice display of erudite deduction toward the end." Connie Fletcher, writing in Booklist, called the mystery "learned and entertaining."
Though not as well known as his "Gideon Oliver" series, the "Lee Ofstead" novels Elkins writes with his wife, Charlotte, have also developed a following. Lee is a professional golfer who always seems to find herself involved in a mystery, though her concerns are primarily focused on improving her game, financing her pro-golf career, and furthering her budding romance with policeman Graham Sheldon. In A Wicked Slice, the authors provide a behind-the-scenes view of life on tour, as well as bringing to light the difficult negotiation sessions that finance a successful golf career. In Where Have All the Birdies Gone? Lee is on the American team playing for the Stewart Cup, a competition against British golfers. Things go terribly wrong, however, when the American captain's caddy is found dead, and Lee's caddy and Peg, Lee's biggest fan, both seem to know more than they're willing to tell. "What a pleasure … [to] watch two genre veterans work their way around a mystery plot and a golf course without any disasters," praised Bill Ott in Booklist. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted: "It's true: No caddie would miss a pro golfer's tee time unless he was dead."
Loot is a stand-alone mystery that begins in 1945 Germany as the crumbling Nazi regime works furiously to hide stolen works of art. In the confusion a truckload of the stolen art disappears. Fifty years later a Velazquez painting, part of the missing shipment, turns up in a Boston pawnshop, and then the pawnshop owner is found dead. Retired art curator Benjamin Revere, moonlighting with the police, sets out to solve the murder of the pawnshop owner and to discover the whereabouts of the missing art. Reviewing Loot in Publishers Weekly, a reviewer wrote that as a character "Revere's combination of high intellect and low pretense makes him an engaging sleuth." In solving the mystery, Revere travels to Europe to find out why pieces of the missing loot are turning up and who is murdering people to find them. Library Journal reviewer Susan Clifford commented that Elkins combines "personably erudite central characters, and historically intriguing plot to enthrall readers." Jenny McLarin, writing in Booklist, called Loot "manna for those who love art and just plain irresistible."
Elkin's novel Turncoat is a "thriller that probes wartime guilt from multiple angles," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. Set in Brooklyn in 1963, Turncoat features Peter Simon, a history professor, and Peter's wife Lilly. One night Lilly has an argument with a stranger who turns out to be her father; he is not dead as Lilly had told Peter. Her father has an old film he wants her to look at, but before Lilly can do so, her father is murdered, and thieves attempt to steal the film. As Peter investigates he makes disturbing discoveries about Lilly's family. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the characters "sketchy" and commented that the book has "an ending that ties up matters rather too neatly," but also noted that Turncoat "captivates" and that "Pete's voice, a garlicky mix of France and Brooklyn, always sounds just right."
Elkins once told CA: "I have been a voracious reader of fiction since I was eleven or twelve, but it never oc- curred to me that I could be a writer myself until a few years ago. Until then, I had classed novelists with opera singers, or baseball players, or movie stars—extraordinary people who inhabited some other world than mine.
"In 1978, at the age of forty-four, I returned from two years in Europe, with no likely job prospects in sight. I had been teaching anthropology for the University of Maryland's Overseas Division, on assignments that took me to NATO bases in England, Germany, Holland, Spain, Sicily, and Sardinia. I had kept a journal of my observations, and I thought I might be able to use it in writing a book. With considerable trepidation, I began a novel involving (of all things) an anthropology professor who moved through Europe, teaching at U.S. military bases."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Booklist, December 1, 1998, Jenny McLarin, review of Loot, p. 165; March 15, 2002, George Needham, review of Skeleton Dance, p. 1332; January 1, 2004, Wes Lukowsky, review of Good Blood, p. 830; November 15, 2004, Bill Ott, review of Where Have All the Birdies Gone?, pp. 564-565; May 1, 2006, Connie Fletcher, review of Unnatural Selection, p. 30; May 1, 2007, Connie Fletcher, review of Little Tiny Teeth, p. 23.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2003, review of Good Blood, p. 1383; December 1, 2004, review of Where Have All the Birdies Gone?, p. 1120; February 15, 2005, review of Where There's a Will, p. 200; May 1, 2006, review of Unnatural Selection, p. 440; May 15, 2007, review of Little Tiny Teeth.
Library Journal, January, 1999, Susan Clifford, review of Loot, p. 165; January, 2004, Ann Forister, review of Good Blood, p. 166.
MBR Bookwatch, March, 2005, Harriet Klausner, review of Where There's a Will.
New York Times, February 6, 1983, review of Fellowship of Fear, p. 20; March 7, 1999, Marilyn Stasio, review of Loot, section 7, p. 20.
New York Times Book Review, January 19, 1997, Marilyn Stasio, review of Twenty Blue Devils; April 2, 2000, Marilyn Stasio, review of Skeleton Dance.
Publishers Weekly, October 30, 1987, review of Old Bones; January 4, 1999, review of Loot, p. 77; April 17, 2000, review of Skeleton Dance, p. 56; May 6, 2002, review of Turncoat, p. 37; January 26, 2004, review of Good Blood, p. 234; February 21, 2005, review of Where There's a Will, pp. 160-161; April 10, 2006, review of Unnatural Selection, p. 30; April 16, 2007, review of Little Tiny Teeth, p. 49.
School Library Journal, July, 2004, Pam Johnson, review of Good Blood, p. 131.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 3, 1988, Sharon Miller, review of Old Bones.
Aaron Elkins Home Page,http://www.aaronelkins.com (January 28, 2008).