TWENTY BLUE DEVILS
By Aaron Elkins
Mysterious Press, 1997
Reviewed by: J.L. Buck
Gideon Oliver is snooping through bones again. Reluctantly leaving wife Julie at home, the forensic pathologist, known in some circles as the Skeleton Detective, has been dragged to Tahiti by his friend, FBI agent John Lau, to attend an exhumation and determine a cause of death. Gideon had dozens of excuses why he couldn't go, but none seemed to matter when Lau asked for help as a personal favor on a family matter. Gideon might have stood his ground, if he had known he was going to have to do the digging himself under the cover of night!
The exotic setting for this novel is the Paradise Coffee Planatation where the beans are cultivated to produce the world's most exclusive and most expensive coffee under the label, Blue Devil. The Plantation's corporation is a world-wide operation closely held by the Druett-Lau family, whose members are the company officers, major shareholders, and official taste testers.
Over the past several months the Plantation has suffered several "accidents," culminating in the recent death of the company manager from an apparent fall. Growing suspicions about the incidents and concerns about organized crime involvement led to the proposed exhumation and Gideon's presence on the island.
Shortly after Gideon and his friend arrived, they discovered the situation was not what they had expected. The local police were hostile; the family had become strangely resistant to the exhumation. But John was more determined than ever to resolve the matter, and, after alienating everyone else on the island, he finally convinced Gideon to help him dig up the body. Armed with a couple of shovels and a lantern, they made a middle-of-the-night expedition that uncovered more than a few bones. That's when the constabulary arrived and caught them in the act of grave robbing. Convinced they have a murder that remains elusive, the two friends find themselves at a stand-still and facing an indeterminate stay in the local jail if Gideon cannot come up with some answers very quickly.
The setting, the coffee, the characters, and the opening chapters will pique your interest - none of them fulfill expectations. It's as if Elkins lost interest half-way through the novel and had someone else write the ending. Needless to say, I was disappointed.
Elkins has written eight prior novels in this successful series. Read those, and let this one pass.
Priors: Fellowship of Fear, The Dark Place, Murder in the Queen's Armes, Old Bones, Curses, Icy Clutches, Make No Bones, Dead Men's Hearts.
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