14 April 2021

Review: DYING ON THE VINE, Aaron Elkins

  • this edition published by Berkley Prime Crime 2012
  • ISBN 978-0-425-24788-4
  • 294 pages
  • #17 in Gideon Oliver series

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Now, the celebrated Skeleton Detective is visiting friends at a vineyard in Tuscany when murder leaves a bitter aftertaste...

It was the unwavering custom of Pietro Cubbiddu, patriarch of Tuscany's Villa Antica wine empire, to take a solitary month-long sabbatical at the end of the early grape harvest, leaving the winery in the trusted hands of his three sons. His wife, Nola, would drive him to an isolated mountain cabin in the Apennines and return for him a month later, bringing him back to his family and business.

So it went for almost a decade - until the year came when neither of them returned. Months later, a hiker in the Apennines stumbles on their skeletal remains. The carabinieri investigate and release their findings: they are dealing with a murder-suicide. The evidence makes it clear that Pietro Cubbiddu shot and killed his wife and then himself. The likely motive: his discovery that Nola had been having an affair.

Not long afterwards, Gideon Oliver and his wife, Julie, are in Tuscany visiting their friends, the Cubbiddu offspring. The renowned Skeleton Detective is asked to reexamine the bones. When he does, he reluctantly concludes that the carabinieri, competent though they may be, have gotten almost everything wrong. Whatever it was that happened in the mountains, a murder-suicide it was not.

Soon Gideon finds himself in a morass of family antipathies, conflicts, and mistrust, to say nothing of the local carabinieri's resentment. And when yet another Cubbiddu relation meets an unlikely end, it becomes bone-chillingly clear that the killer is far from finished...

My take

The plot of this novel is very similar to the only other book I have read in this series (OLD BONES), in that the setting is linked to a conference on forensic anthropology that the Skeleton Detective is attending and giving several sessions at. The aim of the seminars is to teach detectives to "read skeletons". One of the attendees suggests that he is able to access some skeletons recently found. Gideon Oliver finds that he disagrees with almost everything the pathologists have come up with. The have concluded a murder/suicide. His interpretation is that they have the order of the deaths wrong, and that both people have been murdered. The other similar plot line is that Gideon Oliver has some connection with the dead person.

Some parts of the investigation held very interesting information, but in other parts the plot got just a little  bit too cute, and I thought the final chapter was not very satisfactory at all, and had the feeling of being written far too hastily. 

My rating: 4.4

I've also read 4.6, OLD BONES

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