Murder in the Queen's Armes

( 4 )


Anthropology professor Gideon Oliver would prefer to keep his mind on his beautiful new bride Julie during their English honeymoon, but one intrusive question will not stop nagging at him: Who would want to steal a thirty-thousand-year-old parieto-occipital calvarial fragment?

Yet someone has lifted this chunk of prehistoric human skull from a musty museum in Dorchester. Then, thirty miles away, an archaeology student is murdered, increasing ...

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Anthropology professor Gideon Oliver would prefer to keep his mind on his beautiful new bride Julie during their English honeymoon, but one intrusive question will not stop nagging at him: Who would want to steal a thirty-thousand-year-old parieto-occipital calvarial fragment?

Yet someone has lifted this chunk of prehistoric human skull from a musty museum in Dorchester. Then, thirty miles away, an archaeology student is murdered, increasing tension and suspicion at a dig that had already seethed with suspicion, rivalry, and mistrust. Could there be a connection between a hot bone and a cold-blooded murder? Gideon is called on by the police to apply the unique skills for which the media have named him “the Skeleton Detective,” and he reluctantly agrees. Before he is done, his sleuthing will lead him to another murder and will—in the most literal and terrifying manner imaginable—sic the dogs on him, putting Gideon himself, and Julie as well, in mortal danger . . .

The third novel in the Edgar Award-winning Gideon Oliver series--now with an eye-catching new package. No sooner do the anthropologist and his bride check into the Queen's Armes than a mystery gets underfoot at a nearby dig. A battered body is discovered instead of the anticipated Bronze Age relic. . . . Reissue.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Anthropologist Gideon Oliver is honeymooning in England when he decides to drop in on a Dorset dig run by his old friend Nate Marcus. The local scientific society is miffed by Marcus's publicity-grabbing theories, and definitely put off by his abrasive manner. Gideon detects an uneasy atmosphere at the dig. After a member vanishes and an unidentifiable body turns up, Gideon (``the skeleton detective'' of Fellowship of Fear and The Dark Place) is dragged into the investigation by the police. He's also unwillingly involved with Marcus's great ``find''that turns out to be a fake. Blackmail, academic hugger-mugger and more murder surface and Gideon and his wife are in dire peril. The characters and local color are only moderately interesting and the ending is rather tame, but the book is saved by Gideon's enthusiasm and Elkins's depiction of his neat ``skeletal detective work.'' Foreign rights: Barney Karpfinger Agency. December 16
Callendar Newgate
"Great stuff!" -- New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781497643130
  • Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
  • Publication date: 7/8/2014
  • Series: Gideon Oliver Mysteries Series , #3
  • Pages: 200
  • Sales rank: 517,318
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Aaron Elkins

Aaron Elkins is a former anthropologist and professor who has been writing mysteries and thrillers since 1982. His major continuing series features forensic anthropologist-detective Gideon Oliver, “the Skeleton Detective.” There are fifteen published titles to date in the series. The Gideon Oliver books have been (roughly) translated into a major ABC-TV series and have been selections of the Book-of-the-Month Club, the Literary Guild, and the Readers Digest Condensed Mystery Series. His work has been published in a dozen languages.

 Mr. Elkins won the 1988 Edgar Award for best mystery of the year for Old Bones, the fourth book in the Gideon Oliver Series. He and his cowriter and wife, Charlotte, also won an Agatha Award, and he has also won a Nero Wolfe Award. Mr. Elkins lives on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula with Charlotte.

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Read an Excerpt

Murder in the Queen's Armes

The Gideon Oliver Series: Book 3

By Aaron Elkins


Copyright © 1985 Aaron Elkins
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-1003-3


EDWARD Hall-Waddington, O.B.E., M.A., Ph.D., F.S.A., ran his hand nervously over a pink and liver-spotted pate, absently brushing back a lock of hair that had been gone for almost forty years.

"Oh, dear," he said in tremulous distress. His white eyebrows knitted atop a beaky, jutting nose that was at odds with an otherwise frail and retiring face. "My word, Professor Oliver! Only an hour? But there's so very much to see ..." His words trailed sorrowfully off, and the hand moved from his brow to take up the burden of his message, gesturing vaguely at the dusty glass cases and musty corridors that lay beyond the door of his tiny, cluttered office.

"I wish I had time to see everything in the museum, sir," Gideon Oliver said courteously. He sat, more than a little cramped, in a small side chair at the elderly archaeologist's desk, his shoulders too wide for the narrow space between desk and wall, his long legs twisted out of the way off to the side. "Actually, Dorchester wasn't on our itinerary at all, but I couldn't imagine being in England without paying my respects."

"To be sure, to be sure," Professor Hall-Waddington said, pink cheeks showing his pleasure. "And to Pummy as well, no doubt?" The eyebrows went up, and cheerful blue eyes twinkled out from under them.

"Pummy, too," Gideon said, smiling.

The prize possession of the Greater Dorchester Museum of History and Archaeology was a six-by-eight-inch piece of curving, darkened bone, most of the back of a thirty-thousand-year-old human skull that had been unearthed by a World War II bombing at nearby Poundbury and fortunately recognized for what it was by the amateur but competent Greater Dorchester Historical and Archaeological Society. Poundbury Man was of considerable anthropological significance because Britain, so rich in archaeological sites, was notably lacking in actual skeletal remnants of ancient man. From the first, the fragment had affectionately and quite naturally been dubbed "Pummy." (With typical English disdain for the middle parts of names, Poundbury is pronounced "Pum'ry.")

It was extraordinary to have such an object housed in a provincial museum run by an amateur antiquarian society, but Professor Hall-Waddington had lent his considerable weight to the society's claims when the find had been made. In 1944 he had been one of England's foremost archaeologists, a colleague of Grahame Clark, V. Gordon Childe, and Leonard Woolley, and Dorchester had gotten to keep its find. When the professor had retired from the British Museum more than thirty years later, after the death of his wife, the society had timidly invited him to become curator of the museum. He had accepted with gratitude, and the collection had become the love of his life.

"Well, let's go and see him, shall we?" he said, rising with unexpected sprightliness. "We'll follow the well-worn path to his case. Old fellow gets quite a lot of attention, you know. You're the second American to pay him a visit this week, as a matter of fact."

"Oh? Another anthropologist? Someone I might know?"

"No, no, I doubt it. I didn't get his name. Student, from the look of him. Spent most of the morning slouching about."

When they walked from the little office into the nearly deserted exhibit rooms, Gideon saw that the museum wasn't dusty at all, and certainly not musty. It only looked as if it should be: a hodgepodge of waist-high glass cases with row upon dull-looking gray row of projectile points and stone flakes, each one painstakingly identified and cataloged on its own typewritten card. Improbable and seemingly inapposite objects stood in dark corners, leaned against the walls, and even lay unprotected on worn tables of dark wood. It was, Gideon admitted to himself, a look that he liked, for he was not a champion of the museum-asentertainment-center, with buttons to push, levers to pull, and slick, nonexplanatory placards. They taught little, and they attracted hordes of marginally interested kids who jumped from contrivance to contrivance, comprehending nothing worth knowing. No, this was the way a museum ought to look, as old-fashioned as it was. He even liked the smell: a chalky, flinty mixture of old, worked stone and floor polish.

Their progress toward the Poundbury exhibit was slow and halting. Professor Hall-Waddington paused at almost every object they passed to murmur a few words about it and, if it was not encased, to run a hand lovingly over it.

"Fragments of a bell mold. Cast in 1717. Don't see many of these."

"Ah," said Gideon.

"Romano-British sarcophagus here. Found in 1925. Body'd been completely packed in chalk, except for the head. What do you make of that? Quite curious."

"Huh," Gideon said. "Interesting."

"And these are the old borough stocks. Used to stand against the side of the town hall. They'd put their feet in the holes, of course. Do you have any idea when that all began?"

"Uh, no, I'm afraid I don't," Gideon said.

"Ha! Thought you wouldn't. Have a guess."

"Sixteenth century?"

"Sixteenth century!" cried Professor Hall-Waddington, delighted. "My word, no! It's from Anglo-Saxon times. And in 1376, Parliament decreed every town had to have a set of them. Decree's never been abolished, you know. This is ours."

"Is that so?" Gideon breathed politely, looking with secret longing toward the case in which he knew the famous skullcap lay.

The old man shuffled a few steps on, but stopped rather firmly ten feet short of the goal. "Now here," he said, placing his hand tenderly on a monstrous, grimy pair of bellows standing on end against the wall, as if some fifty-foot giant of a blacksmith had leaned it there for a few seconds while he had a sip from a bucket of water. "Now here are the actual bellows from the Downtown Forge."

"Mm," Gideon said. "Ah."

"Most bellows authorities claim these were manufactured in 1792, you know, but I hold firmly with 1796 or even later. What would you say, Professor?"

The fact that there was such a thing as a bellows authority came as news to Gideon. "Well," he said, "uh ... I'd say 1796 or 1797."

"Ah, and quite right you'd be. Quite right. No question about it in my mind. I'd be curious about your own rationale, however." He turned his frank, clear, blue eyes expectantly on Gideon.

"Well," said Gideon. He coughed gently and looked surprised. "Is that the Poundbury skull over there?"

"What?" Professor Hall-Waddington looked over his shoulder at the case with the golden fragment of bone in it. "Why, yes, of course it is. I keep forgetting you're a physical anthropologist and not another fuddy-duddy old antiquary like me." He chuckled pleasantly. "Here you are, come all this way to pay homage to old Pummy, and I've been prattling on about bellows."

"Not at all," Gideon said quickly. "It's been fascinating."

"Kind of you to say so, but now let's have a look at him, shall we?"

There was, however, one obstacle still to be negotiated— an exhibit consisting of what seemed to be two vicious-looking pitchforks chained together scissors-fashion, and Professor Hall-Waddington was unable to ignore it in passing.

"Know what this is?" At the absence of Gideon's usual courteous murmur, he spoke a little louder. "It's an old hay-devil. Used for bringing hay from wagon to rick, you see ..."

Gideon hardly heard him. He was staring at the Poundbury skull fragment only a few feet away. Something was wrong with it, so wildly wrong that it had him momentarily doubting his senses. "Poundbury Man," he whispered, unaware that he was speaking aloud. "Isn't it supposed to be an elderly man, long-headed ...?"

"Supposed to be?" Professor Hall-Waddington echoed, bewildered. "Of course it is. Le Gros Clark himself aged it, and sexed it, and estimated the cranial index. Sir Arthur Keith verified it, and so did your own Hooton."

Gideon was well aware of all this. He had himself studied photographs and casts of Poundbury Man and had never doubted the original analysis. "Professor," he said, "would it be possible to take it from the case—to handle it?"

The curator used a key at his waist to unlock the small, ordinary padlock, and raised the glass lid of the case. He turned aside four simple spring-clips that held down the black-velvet-covered block to which the time-stained bone was attached by two loops of wire. Looking oddly at Gideon, he stepped back and gestured politely at it. "Please," he said.

Gideon picked up the block and turned it so that he could look at the back of the fragment more closely. He needed only a second to confirm his impression.

"It isn't Poundbury Man, sir."

"Not Poundbury Man?" The old archaeologist laughed tentatively. "Not Poundbury Man?"

"I'm afraid I don't see how it can be." Poundbury Woman, maybe, or Poundbury Girl, but not Poundbury Man. There was no doubt in Gideon's mind that what lay in his hand was the left rear half of a woman's skull—not elderly at all, but in her twenties. And clearly broad-headed, not long-headed.

"Look at the nuchal crest," he said, "or rather, the absence of it—and the supra-auricular ridge. They're not nearly pronounced enough to be male—"

"But Le Gros Clark himself stood right here, right where you are ... Or was it in my office ...? Yes, in my office—"

"And look, sir," Gideon persisted gently, "you can see for yourself that none of the sutures show even incipient closure, so she's probably no more than twenty-four or twenty-five—"

"But of course it's Poundbury Man. It must be Pound-bury Man. Why, what else would it be?" His thin, brown-flecked hand made an uncertain movement toward his lips.

"Hard to say," Gideon's fingers brushed the fragment's edges with seeming carelessness. "It's old, all right. Not thirty thousand years, but a good two or three thousand anyway. On a guess I'd say she might be from one of the brachycephalic Beaker populations, one of the later groups, maybe 1400 or 1500 b.c."

"No, no." Professor Hall-Waddington shook his head querulously. "It's quite impossible, I tell you. How could ... how ...?"

His voice sputtered to a stop as he took his first good look at the skull. "Why," he said, pointing an accusatory finger at it, "that's not Pummy."

He snatched it from Gideon. "Do you know what this is? It's from Sutton Bell—you know Sutton Bell? A later Beaker site near Avebury—1500 b.c. or thereabouts. Look here." He hunted briefly along the skull's jagged perimeter and found some faded, tiny numbers written in pen: SB J6-2. "You see? But how very odd! How did it get into Pummy's case? And where's Pummy?"

"This fragment—is it from the museum's collection?"

"Yes, of course, but it ought to be in storage in the basement." The tense skin around his eyes relaxed slightly. "Someone must have accidentally exchanged the two, don't you think? Why, Pummy must be right downstairs in the basement."

The run to the basement was made with a speed and directness of which Gideon had thought Professor Hall-Waddington incapable. Once there, the doors of a metal storage cabinet were thrown ajar, the contents hastily rummaged through, and finally the lid of a dusty cardboard box labeled SB J6-2 was flung heedlessly across the room. Professor Hall-Waddington thrust his face into the box.

"Empty! Pummy ... Pummy appears to have been ..." He held the box in trembling hands and looked up at Gideon with wondering eyes. "But why would anyone steal a thirty-thousand-year-old parieto-occipital calvareal fragment?"


"WHY would anyone steal a thirty-thousand-year-old whatzit?" Julie asked, her black eyes no less wondering.

"Beats the hell out of me," Gideon said.

She stopped walking and tilted her face upward. "Ooh, that smells wonderful. Whatever it is, let's get some."

He agreed readily, delighted to see her healthy appetite returning. She had felt the lingering effects of jet lag through three wet and gloomy days in London, and their stay had left her a little dispirited, not a typical condition with her. He, too, had been depressed by the huge city— perceptibly grungier than the last time he'd seen it six years before—and was happy to get out of it.

Once they'd rented the little Ford Escort and driven west past the dormitory towns and through Hampshire, and then into the green and rolling hills of Dorset, they'd begun to cheer up, and now, guidebook in hand, they had just embarked on the agreeably small-scale adventure of exploring Dorchester.

The aroma that had caught their attention turned out to be coming from a bakery a few doors away on the High Street, and they went in and sat themselves down at a tiny wooden table, for two big wedges of warm Dorset apple cake and a pot of tea. They were both coffee drinkers, but this was England, after all, and what was the point of foreign travel if you carried your old tastes and prejudices around with you? Besides, they'd tried English coffee.

As they ate, Gideon tookthe opportunity to watch Julie and to congratulate himself on his good luck, both of which he'd been doing a lot of lately. And why not? Life was full and sweet, sweeter than he had any right to expect. When Nora had been killed four years before, he couldn't imagine ever loving again; he could barely think about living. And now, astoundingly, he was married. There was Julie at his side, munching away; bouncy, pretty, bright, robust Julie, whom he hadn't known a year ago, and who was now the center of his existence. She had left her ParkService job; he was on leave for the fall quarter; and they were spending a rambling, come-what-may honeymoon in England. And it was as if his life were starting over again.

"You know," she said suddenly, putting down her fork and brushing back a tendril of dark, glossy hair, "you sure don't look like a world-renowned anthropologist." She'd been studying him too; the thought was absurdly pleasing.

"I'm not a world-renowned anthropologist."

"Yes, you are. You told me; twice, at least. And you're certainly the world's best-known skeleton detective." This referred to an unfortunate label that had appeared in a magazine article about his identification of some human remains that had been buried for thirty years. The sobriquet had clung, and Gideon spent considerable effort among his colleagues at Northern California State University trying to live it down.

"Bite your tongue," he said. Then, after a moment:

"What's a world-renowned anthropologist supposed to look like?"

"Not like you. He's not supposed to be big and broad-shouldered, with a prizefighter's nose and a beautiful, warm, hairy chest, and—"

"Hey, finish your tea," he said, ridiculously happy. "I think we'd better do some sightseeing."

They went back out into the venerable and bustling High Street with its pleasing jumble of old cottages, staid Georgian bow windows, ancient, lichen-stained church walls, and twentieth-century facades. Inside of an hour they'd visited the Thomas Hardy statue at Top o'Town, admired the remains of the Roman wall, crossed a stone bridge on which a notice informed them that it was off-limits to "locomotive traction engines and other ponderous carriages," and looked at various sites purported to be models for the settings in Hardy's Mayor of Casterbridge.

Docilely following the terse instructions in their guidebook, they turned left at the County Laboratory, walked down the narrow, high-walled passage to its end, and mounted the flight of steps. When they had done so, they found themselves in a parking lot.

This, their book informed them, is the site of No. 7 Shire Hall Place, where Hardy lived from June 1883 until June 1885—now, it added unnecessarily, a car park.

From there they were directed to a gray stone mansion called Colliton House, the prototype for Lucetta's house, High Place Hall.

Gideon read aloud from the guidebook. "'The arms over the front entry are extremely interesting: Sable, A Lion Rampant Argent, Debruised with a Bendlet Gules—' Julie, are you really enjoying this?"

"Are you?"

It didn't take them long to agree that they weren't, and a quick skimming of the rest of the book gave them the happy information that nearby the river Frome, with its many Hardy associations, wends its peaceful way between shaded banks, followed closely by a rustic river path.


Excerpted from Murder in the Queen's Armes by Aaron Elkins. Copyright © 1985 Aaron Elkins. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 30, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Very Good Mystery

    If you like anthropology and 'bones' this is a book for you.
    Gideon Oliver is known as the Bone Doctor and can also solve
    murders. Aaron Elkins is a great writer and another good thing
    is that this is a series. So there are more

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 5, 2009

    Not Bad

    The Gideon Oliver series is always a fairly good read. These books are very small and take about a day to read. They are great books for travel.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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