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American/Cozy Mysteries

Good Blood, Aaron Elkins, Berkley, $6.99.

Good Blood by Aaron Elkins

Aaron Elkins is back in good form with his latest Gideon Oliver caper, Good Blood. There isn't too much of Gideon's annoying wife, Julie (who belongs in a club with Spenser's Susan and Alex Deleware's awful Robin), the setting - Italy - is delightful, and there's a cranky police official for Gideon to tangle with, as well as a pal from home, Phil, who ends up dead in the middle of the mystery. These are not novels to pick up to exercise your brain, but novels to pick up for a little virtual travel. The settings are always well delineated and you learn a bit about bones - Gideon is a forensic anthropologist - who detests dead bodies with actual flesh still on them.

The mystery is a sharp one too - Phil's extended Italian family is a complicated and dysfunctional one - his first cousin, Vincenzo, is the local "padrone" - more in the middle ages or renaissance meaning of the term than the mafia one. He owns his own island, complete with cavernous, beautiful house, as well as lots of live in relatives who, by some sort of ancient code, can never be evicted. Many of them are hostile to Phil whom they see as a kind of interloper - but we as readers know a bit more of Phil's history and it adds spice to the story. When the padrone's obnoxious teenaged son, Achille, is kidnaped in a gripping scene near the beginning of the book, it ramps up the action, as does the discovery of a skeleton on a building site about midway through that gets Gideon believably drawn into the story. These are well done, bouncy and enjoyable stories - for the true fan, it's good news that some of Elkins' earlier and best books will be re-released this summer, including my favorite, A Dark Place.

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