Aaron Elkins Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

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.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Brunsdale, Mitzi M. Gumshoes: A Dictionary of Fictional Detectives. Greenwood Press, 2006. A thick, well-researched book with articles centering on the detectives. Includes Gideon Oliver as well as lists of mystery awards and other information for research.

Elkins, Aaron. “Douglas Owsley.” Smithsonian 36, no. 8 (November, 2005): 105-106. The author profiles a forensic anthropologist who is studying Kennewick man. Sheds light on where Elkins may get some of his ideas and scientific knowledge.

Elkins, Aaron. “Have Contract, Will Travel.” The Armchair Detective 27, no. 2 (1995): 200-205. This essay on how Elkins uses his travel experience in his writing is especially useful for writers.

Elkins, Aaron, and Charlotte Elkins. “Charlotte and Aaron Elkins: A Marriage Shaped by Murder.” Interview by Amanda Smith. Publishers Weekly 242, no. 48 (November 27, 1995): 47-48. Interview looks at the collaborative process, Charlotte’s love of golf, and how their marriage works.

Genge, Ngaire. The Forensic Casebook: The Science of Crime Scene Investigation. New York: Ballantine Books, 2002. This reference work includes many true-crime stories. Provides an understanding of what forensic anthropologists such as the fictional Gideon Oliver do.

Pederson, Jay P., ed. St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers. Detroit, Mich.: St. James Press, 1996. This guide covers 650 English-language writers of the crime and mystery genre. Contains solid material on the genre and its practitioners, including Aaron Elkins. Biographical and critical material are provided as well as bibliographies.

Schulze, Sydney. “Gideon Oliver: Skeleton Detective of America.” Clues 13, no. 1 (1992): 81-89. An informative essay on the development and characteristics of Gideon Oliver throughout the series.