Aaron Elkins published his first book, Fellowship of Fear, a Gideon Oliver mystery, in 1982. His main character, Gideon Oliver, is a witty and sensitive forensic anthropologist who, at the beginning of the series, is recovering from the death of his wife from cancer. As the series progresses, he meets, falls in love with, and marries Julie Tendler. Gideon applies his forensic skills to murder victims, following up the clues that he finds in their bones.
The Gideon Oliver novels are an example of a popular subgenre of mystery: the amateur sleuth whose adventures are neither bloodless nor graphically gruesome and who introduces readers to worlds ordinarily closed to them. Elkins and his wife, Charlotte, have traveled all over the world, and the settings of these novels are realistic and informative as well as romantic. Information about forensic anthropology is knit seamlessly into the action.
The Chris Norgren series gives readers a look at the antiques business while the protagonist tracks down killers within the art world. Chris is less developed as a character than Gideon, but his adventures and knowledge are intriguing, especially for readers interested in art. The Lee Ofsted series, created by Elkins with his wife, features light but pleasant mysteries connected with golf; this series is closest to the cozy subgenre. Elkins’s nonseries mysteries are tightly structured thrillers with fast-paced action and sympathetic characters.
Elkins’s novels are appealing to the mystery reader for several reasons. His novels are a pleasing mixture of both the hard-boiled and the cozy mystery. The plots are highly satisfying, with unpredictable but persuasive conclusions. In addition, the main characters, in particular Gideon, are psychologically convincing as well as likeable. Gideon is a multilayered character with a believable background that gains depth with each novel. Other forensic anthropologists have joined Gideon on the mystery scene, but Gideon presents a the perfect level of forensic detail—not so much science that readers are bored or so little that they are mystified as to the importance of clues. The Oliver mysteries contain enough information to enlighten and teach the reader, but the information is presented as an organic part of the narrative. Similarly, the golf novels and the antiques novels present an insider’s view but do not overload the reader with information. The lively dialogue and glints of humor add to the attractiveness of Elkins’s work.