Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Pierce’s Picks: “Dying on the Vine”

A weekly alert for followers of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.

Dying on the Vine, by Aaron Elkins (Berkley):
Not to be confused with Peter King’s 1998 novel of the same name, this book is Elkins’ 17th entry in his series featuring forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver, aka The Skeleton Detective. As has been the case in several previous entries, the trouble begins when Oliver and his wife, Julie, go traveling--in this instance, on a lecture junket to the Tuscany wine region of Italy. While there, they become involved in the mystery of Pietro Cubbiddu, a prominent vintner, and his wife, Nola, both of whom went missing from an isolated mountain cabin. Eleven months later their skeletal remains are discovered at the base of a steep cliff. It isn’t long afterward that the aged local police pathologist pronounces a verdict of murder-suicide, suggesting that Pietro killed his spouse and then himself after learning that she had been having an affair. Oliver, though, begs to differ. He happens to be visiting in Tuscany with Julie’s old friend Linda Rutledge, the wife of one of Pietro’s three sons. Asked to re-examine the bones, he concludes that the pathologist got nearly everything wrong. This exacerbates tensions within the Cubbiddu clan, which is already rocked by a rivalry between Pietro’s offspring and Nola’s child from a previous marriage, and by questions about whether Pietro had been planning to sell off the family’s winery. Elkins’ Gideon Oliver stories--which I’ve been reading ever since Fellowship of Fear (1982)--can be predictable in their construction, but that doesn’t make them any less entertaining. Sadly, Elkins says Dying on the Vine will be his last Oliver outing.

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