Elkins, Aaron J. 1935-
ELKINS, Aaron J. 1935-
PERSONAL: Born July 24, 1935, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Irving Abraham (a machinist) and Jennie (Katz) 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.
ADDRESSES: Home—Bainbridge Island, WA. Agent—c/o Karpfinger Agency, 500 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2800, New York, N.Y. 10110.
CAREER: 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; University of Maryland at College Park, European Division, Heidelberg, West Germany, lecturer in anthropology, psychology, and business, 1976-78, lecturer in business, 1984-1985; U.S. Office of Personnel Management, San Francisco, CA, management analyst, 1979-80; Government of Contra Costa County, CA, director of management development, 1980-83; writer, 1984—. Lecturer at California State University, Hayward and Fullerton, and at Golden Gate University. Member of Clallam County Civil Service Commission, 1987—.
MEMBER: Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Mystery Writers of America.
AWARDS, HONORS: Edgar Allan Poe Award for best mystery novel, Mystery Writers of America, 1988, for Old Bones.
"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.
Skeleton Dance: A Novel, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2000.
"CHRIS NORGREN" SERIES
A Deceptive Clarity, Walker & Co. (New York, NY), 1987.
A Glancing Light, Scribner (New York, NY), 1991.
Old Scores: A Chris Norgren Mystery, Scribner (New York, NY), 1993.
Curses!, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1989.
(With wife, Charlotte Elkins) A Wicked Slice, St. Martin's 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.
(With Charlotte Elkins) Rotten Lies, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1995.
(With Charlotte Elkins) Nasty Breaks, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Twenty Blue Devils, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Loot: A Novel, William Morrow (New York, NY), 1999.
Turncoat, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor to personnel, education, and anthropology journals.
ADAPTATIONS: The Gideon Oliver books were adapted for television by American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. (ABC), 1989.
SIDELIGHTS: Aaron J. Elkins, the author of mystery novels, often sets his plots in foreign locations such as Egypt, Tahiti, Mexico, and Alaska. Some of his mystery novels are written as part of a series. In his "Gideon Oliver" series, Elkins introduces readers to Gideon Oliver, a forensic anthropologist who solves modern murders. Some of the books in the series include Fellowship of Fear, The Dark Place, Murder in the Queen's Armes, and Old Bones, which won the Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1988 for the best mystery novel. In a second series of mysteries, the "Chris Norgren" series, Elkins introduces retired museum curator Chris Norgren whose sleuthing solves crimes. Books in this series include A Deceptive Clarity, A Glancing Light, and Old Scores. Collaborating with his wife, Charlotte, Elkins has also written Wicked Slice, Rotten Lies, and Nasty Breaks, novels with crimes that involve the sport of golf. Other crime novels written by Elkins include Twenty Blue Devils, Loot: A Novel, and Turncoat.
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. . . . 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."
In Old Bones, which Sharon Miller of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer called "witty and well-plotted," Gideon Oliver, 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 doesn't think so. A Publishers Weekly critic noted "an intricate plot" and "a thrilling final scene" which "gallops along as fast and compelling as the tide itself."
Another "Gideon Oliver" novel, Skeleton Dance: A Novel, described as "an entertaining and informative excursion through the prehistory and cuisine of rural France," by George Needham of Booklist, has Oliver traveling in France with his wife and conducting research on a book about scientific hoaxes. Oliver, is in the process of interviewing five scientists at the Institut de Préhistoire, a renowned archeological 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 the hoax, 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" result in "an exceptionally delectable treat."
Loot: A Novel is set in 1945 Germany in the midst of a crumbling Nazi regime working furiously to hide stole works of art. In the confusion a truckload of the stolen art disappears. Fifty years later a Velazquez painting, part of the missing truckload of art, turns up in a Boston pawnshop, and then the pawnshop owner turns up 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's 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."
Turncoat, according to a Publishers Weekly writer, is a "stand-alone thriller that probes wartime guilt from multiple angles." Set in Brooklyn in 1963, Turncoat features Peter Simon, a history professor, and his wife Lilly. One night Lily 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 review called the characters "sketchy" and commented that the book has "an ending that ties up matters rather too neatly," but concluded that Turncoat "captivates" and "Pete's voice, a garlicky mix of France and Brooklyn, always sound just right."
Elkins once told CA: "I have been a voracious reader of fiction since I was eleven or twelve, but it never occurred 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: A Novel, p. 165; March 15, 2002, George Needham, review of Skeleton Dance: A Novel, p. 1332.
Library Journal, January, 1999, Susan Clifford, review of Loot, p. 165.
New York Times, February 6, 1983, review of Fellowship of Fear, p. 20; January 19, 1997, Marilyn Stasio "Crime," section 7, p. 22; March 7, 1999, Marilyn Stasio, "Crime," section 7, p. 20.
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.
Seattle Times/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 3, 1988, Sharon Miller, review of Old Bones.
Washington Post Book World, June 19, 1988.*