- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best mystery novel of the year.
With the roar of thunder and the speed of a galloping horse comes the tide to Mont St. Michel goes the old nursery song. So when the aged patriarch of the du Rocher family falls victim to the perilous tide, even the old man?s family accepts the verdict of accidental drowning. But too quickly, this ?accident? is followed by a bizarre discovery in the ancient du Rocher ...
Winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best mystery novel of the year.
With the roar of thunder and the speed of a galloping horse comes the tide to Mont St. Michel goes the old nursery song. So when the aged patriarch of the du Rocher family falls victim to the perilous tide, even the old man’s family accepts the verdict of accidental drowning. But too quickly, this “accident” is followed by a bizarre discovery in the ancient du Rocher chateau: a human skeleton, wrapped in butcher paper, beneath the old stone flooring. Professor Gideon Oliver, lecturing on forensic anthropology at nearby St. Malo, is asked to examine the bones. He quickly demonstrates why he is known as the “Skeleton Detective,” providing the police with forensic details that lead them to conclude that these are the remains of a Nazi officer believed to have been murdered in the area during the Occupation. Or are they? Gideon himself has his doubts. Then, when another of the current du Rochers dies—this time via cyanide poisoning—his doubts solidify into a single certainty: someone wants old secrets to stay buried . . . and is perfectly willing to eradicate the meddlesome American to make that happen.
When an old skeleton is found beneath the floor of the du Rocher estate, American "skeleton detective" Dr. Gideon Oliver is called in to uncover the secrets behind the Old Bones. Winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Mystery of 1987.
SO still and silent was the fog-wreathed form that it might have been an angular, black boulder. But there are no boulders, angular or otherwise, to mar the immense, flat tidal plain that is Mont St. Michel Bay. When the tide is out there is only sand, more than a hundred square miles of it. And when the tide is in, the plain becomes a vast, rolling ocean from which the great abbey-citadel of Mont St. Michel itself—St. Michael's Mount—rears like some stupendous, God-made thing of dark and gloomy granite, all narrow Gothic arches and stark, medieval perpendiculars.
The mist eddied, then shifted, and the figure was revealed to be a lean, elderly man in a fur hat and a heavy, well-tailored black overcoat, kneeling in the sand and hunched over a limpet shell in his leather-gloved left hand. But though his head was appropriately inclined, the old man was not looking at the shell.
He stared without seeing, his thoughts far away. His right hand was thrust deeply into the pocket of the overcoat. For many minutes he remained so, unmoving, lost in reflection, and then he tensed suddenly. His head jerked up, then cocked to one side, the better to listen. The wide, aristocratic forehead was inquisitively wrinkled, the thick, white eyebrows arched. A terrible, white scar that began at the left corner of his mouth and disappeared under a black satin eye patch seemed to tighten, so that his thin mouth was jerked out of line. His right eye, gray and clear, held a look of strained disbelief.
The old man, who never spoke to himself, spoke to himself.
"The tide?" he whispered, and again: "The tide!"
He dropped the mollusk and rose stiffly to his feet. He bent again to fumble with one hand for the woven-straw mat on which he'd been kneeling to protect the knees of his dark-gray trousers, but then he flung that away too, turned, and made grimly for the Mont, more than a kilometer away, which was visible only dimly and intermittently through the mist. The man moved quickly but jerkily, his crippled leg throwing his balance off, his left hand energetically swinging, his right immobile in its pocket.
The tide! How could he have lost track of time so completely? It hardly seemed possible, but there was no mistaking the sound of it, nor the rush of cool, salt-laden air that streamed before it. "With the roar of thunder," went the old Breton nursery song, "and the speed of a galloping horse, comes the tide to Mont St. Michel."
He did not require the aid of metaphor to understand his predicament. The speed of the incoming tide was not quite that of a galloping horse, but it was fast enough—a gleaming skin of water rolling smoothly into the bay at nearly twenty-five kilometers an hour, its face endlessly collapsing and tumbling in on itself. It was no towering tidal wave of death, he knew that; but a seeping, stealthy flood that was not there one moment, sloshed at one's ankles the next, then at one's hips ...
The wind had brought with it an icy squall of sleet, and already the man's wool coat was wet, the rims of his ears burning. The thin fog shredded before the wind, wrapping the spires and turrets of the Mont with otherworldly filaments of silver, tinged pink by the pale and dying sun. On the rampart of the north tower he could see a few people, tourists, waving him earnestly on; shouting too, he thought. Simpletons. Couldn't they see that he was moving as quickly as he could? That he was an old man and lame? Why didn't they come down and help him instead of jumping uselessly about?
Even as he asked it, he knew it was a foolish question. Although the tour du nord was at the base of the walls surrounding the abbey buildings themselves, it hung high up on the rock, over fifty meters above the tidal plain, and the path down was rocky and uneven. They could never reach him in time. And why should they risk their lives in the treacherous sands to help him?
He didn't let himself think about whether he could outrun the water, but limped on, his warmly booted feet dragging through the sand. The water was not yet visible behind him; there was only the thrumming. That and the rush of moist air. His chest heaved, and inside it hot needles twisted in his scarred lungs. The old wounds in his leg and foot burned. Still, he was advancing on the Mont. He was close enough to hear an occasional shout now. Perhaps, after all, there was a chance—
He stopped abruptly. There was water in front of him. He stared, blinking, at the shallow, mauve-tinged rivulet that ran from left to right across his path twenty or thirty steps ahead. He understood perfectly what it was and what it meant. The tide did not advance with a solid front, but threw out long tendrils—how beautiful they looked from up on the Mont—in sweeping, almost circular curves that first isolated, then encroached upon, and finally engulfed great bays of the yellow sand.
While he looked at it, the long finger of water became an arm of the sea, spreading and deepening before him. He spun about, expecting to see the main body of water close behind, but except for a few tentative feelers, it was still far away, perhaps a hundred meters. He had a chance yet, by the good Lord!
He plunged ahead into the ankle-deep water, knowing he ran the risk of stepping into a submerged stream or a patch of quicksand, but knowing too that he had no choice. His calf-high boots kept the wetness and cold from his feet, but they seemed to pull him down, as if they were lined with lead and not with wool, and each step was an exhausting effort that puffed out his lean cheeks. The furrowed scar pulled at the satin-covered socket of his empty eye now, so that his entire face felt awry.
"Vite!" they shouted from the north tower. "Vite!" As if they thought he was taking his time!
With dismay the old man watched the arm of water through which he plodded swell and send out tendrils of its own. It was almost up to his calves now, and the leading edge rolled onward, pulling maddeningly away from him as he dragged himself towards it. His heart pounded with each lurching step through the sucking sand, and he was hot and fearfully cold at the same time. Icy water began slopping onto the tops of his boots, weighing him down still more and setting his limbs to convulsive shivering.
The boots, he thought. If he could get them off ... But he knew he couldn't afford to stop in the rising water, and he knew he didn't have the strength to do it; not with only one good hand. In growing confusion he tore off his fur hat instead and threw it away. The chilling blast of sleet on the back of his neck made him cry out and tremble so convulsively that he could barely see. Still, with the water sloshing in his boots and his breath like knives in his throat, he managed three more blind steps before he finally stumbled into the quicksand.
The infamous sable mouvant of Mont St. Michel Bay is not quicksand, strictly speaking, not a slippery, shifting mass of smooth-grained sand and upward-percolating water; it is a phenomenon unique to this colossal tidal flat: deep pockets filled with water and covered with a layer of sand that somehow floats on top of them. From the battlements of the north tower they are invisible, and to the small, avid crowd gathered there it seemed as if the legs of the staggering man on the darkening plain below suddenly disappeared. A woman screamed and locked her fingers over her mouth. The others watched in rapt, shocked silence. Below, the tiny figure struggled, flailing at the still-shallow water with one arm and sinking all the more rapidly for it.
Until the very instant it closed smoothly over his head he was wriggling so desperately it seemed he must come up again, but the surface remained unbroken except for an innocuous dimple that marked the place he had been. And within a few seconds it was as if he had never been there at all.CHAPTER 2
LUCIEN Anatole Joly, inspecteur principal of the Police Nationale's Provincial Department of Criminal Investigation, Côtes-du-Nord, tapped his long and graceful fingers noiselessly on the lined tablet that lay on the flat writing arm of his chair, which was in the center of the second row. He was not the sort of man who skulked to the back of the room when he attended a lecture; he came to listen and to learn.
So far, however, the Eighth Annual Conference on Science and Detection, held for the first time in St. Malo, had failed in its promise of useful edification. After a full morning the lined tablet held only a quarter of a page of Inspector Joly's neat, symmetrical script. Moreover, he was bored.
Inspector Joly was easily bored and not inclined to bear it magnanimously. There were many things he did not bear magnanimously. His subordinates referred to him as "Monsieur Giscard" because—Sergeant Denis had confided to him one day—of a resemblance to the former president of France; they were both tall, both bald and long-faced, both lean. So Denis had said. But Joly knew better. He knew very well that he looked nothing like the old conservative, whom he in fact admired greatly. No, the nickname had caught on because of a certain regal stiffness the two had in common, an awkwardness and impatience with trivia, and sometimes with social intercourse in general, that often projected itself as arrogance. Well, that was fine with him. As reputations went, it wasn't a bad one for a policeman.
The morning session had been a lecture and slide presentation by a dour Finnish entomologist who mumbled away in such a bizarre combination of French and English that he would have done as well to deliver it in Finnish. No doubt a part of the problem was the subject: "Sarcosaprophagous Insects as Forensic Criteria"—less than inviting in any language. Even with the language barrier, however, Joly now knew far more about the actions of blowfly larvae on decomposing corpses than he liked.
He was hoping—without much confidence—for a little more from the afternoon's topic, "Forensic Anthropology." At least he knew what it meant. Well, perhaps not precisely, but he could pronounce it, and that was an improvement. He settled back in his chair, his lunch of omelette aux champignons and coffee sitting well inside him, and studied the speaker, who was arranging a few index cards at the head table while the conference chairman droned on with his remarks. Joly glanced again at the program notes:
Dr. Gideon P. Oliver, Professor of Anthropology, University of Washington—Port Angeles. Dr. Oliver has an outstanding reputation in the fields of biological anthropology and human evolution, having authored the distinguished text A Structuro-Functional Approach to Pleistocene Hominid Phylogeny, now in its third edition. He is almost equally well known to the international police community as "The Skeleton Detective" for his remarkable achievements in the forensic analysis of human skeletal remains.
Well, he certainly didn't look like Joly's idea of a scientist-cum-skeleton detective. Gideon Oliver was no gaunt and dessicated elderly man steeped in the dank aura of the morgue—or more appropriately the shallow grave in the open field. (Professor Wuorinen of the blowflies would have done perfectly.) He was, surprisingly, a big, wide-shouldered man with a broken nose and an easy smile, who looked more like a good-natured prizefighter than a professor. Joly had noticed him during the milling-about of the registration period, talking familiarly with the equally large Hawaiian FBI man—who didn't look much like the inspector's idea of an FBI special agent, for that matter. Ah, well, the world was changing.
* * *
"... AND I know we've all enjoyed and will much benefit from this morning's fascinating presentation." The conference chairman, Pierre Chagny, Deputy Director of the Central Directorate of Criminal Investigation of the Police Nationale, paused with a smile on his round face and mimed the clapping of his hands, encouraging a spiritless spatter of applause for Professor Wuorinen, who acknowledged it from a seat at the back of the room with a gloomy frown and a curt nod.
"And now it will be my pleasure to introduce a speaker already known to many of you as the Skeleton Detective of America...."
* * *
GIDEON winced. Obviously, this skeleton detective business, hung on him by a fanciful crime reporter years before, was not going to go away, and in fact he had begun to resign himself to living with it. But "the Skeleton Detective of America"? That was another rung up the ladder of absurdity. With luck, it might never get back to his academic colleagues, but he doubted it. They were maliciously efficient at ferreting out such tidbits, and it wouldn't be long before he arrived at some committee meeting to find a meticulously printed place card labeled "Dr. G. P. Oliver, the Skeleton Detective of America." That or worse.
He sighed, laid down his note cards, and looked around the room. Ninety people, sitting on stackable plastic chairs and regarding him with the sleepy and unhopeful gaze of an after-lunch audience that believes it is in for a long, dry lecture. Since France was the host country this year, most of the attendees were French, but everyone was supposed to have a command of English, the organization's official language. This Gideon doubted (certainly Professor Wuorinen's command was dubious), and he had considered speaking in French, but his courage had failed him. They would have to settle for English, along with printed translations of his charts and tables.
Off to the side in the second row, John Lau slumped on the small of his back, comfortably askew, one ankle up on the empty chair in front of him, and already two-thirds asleep. Old friends, they had come to St. Malo together, John to attend lectures and Gideon to give them. If that was as much enthusiasm as he could expect from his one and only crony in the place, Gideon thought, he was in big trouble.
"... my privilege to put you into the capable hands of the renowned Dr. Oliver for the first of his four presentations on forensic anthropology. I know you will find him thoroughly fascinating. Dr. Oliver."
Gideon rose to transparently doubtful applause, shook hands with Monsieur Chagny, and waited for the room to settle down.
"What I hope to do over the next few days," he began, "is to acquaint you with what bones can tell us, and how they tell it. I'm afraid we'll have to work with medical school specimens; there haven't been any murder cases involving skeletons in Brittany for some time, unfortunately. Or perhaps fortunately, depending on how you look at it...."
* * *
WITHOUT looking at the dark, solemn servant who proffered the tray of apéritifs, Mathilde du Rocher waved him away with an impatient flick of a beringed and impeccably manicured hand.
"I, for one," she had been saying, and now said again for the benefit of her amiably smiling husband, "I, for one, find the entire business intolerably overbearing on Guillaume's part, and inexcusably rude as well. We've been waiting here for nearly an hour. An hour!" She compressed her firm mouth eloquently. "Collecting seashells!"
"Well," said René du Rocher, accepting a champagne cocktail, "I'm sure there are reasons."
Mathilde did not dignify this feeble response with one of her own. She merely glared at his newly furry upper lip with a look that said: Your moustache is utterly ridiculous. René smiled pleasantly and sipped his cocktail.
Mathilde turned to her son. "That's your second martini. Where did you learn to drink martinis?"
Neither were these comments acknowledged. Jules du Rocher's plump arm swept the long-stemmed glass from the tray directly to his lips, which he smacked loudly after downing half the drink.
"What are they doing here, is what I'd like to know," he grumbled, openly staring across the room at another threesome, who sat stiffly in their high-backed wing chairs, as removed and alienated as if they'd been walled off.
"If I'd known they were really going to be here, I assure you we would still be in Frankfurt," said Mathilde, grimly watching her son drain his glass with a second swallow and then go grubbing with a pudgy thumb and forefinger after the anchovy-stuffed olive at the bottom.
"Don't do that, Jules," she said disgustedly.
"Well, why don't they put a toothpick in it, then?" he asked, not unreasonably. He capitulated, however, bringing the glass to his lips, upending it, and helping the olive into his mouth with a pinky that followed it in rather more deeply than Mathilde thought strictly necessary.
Excerpted from Old Bones by Aaron Elkins. Copyright © 1987 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.
Posted March 20, 2012
Posted July 1, 2005
How did I ever miss these novels in the late 80's when Elkins started writing the Gideon Oliver, skeleton detective?! They're wonderful. Not too heavy on character development or drama, but very interesting on the forensic side of things. The locations are always very interesting, and sometimes there are local trivia tidbits the author throws in that I enjoy. Highly recommended. Start with FELLOWSHIP OF FEAR, then THE DARK PLACE.
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 8, 2013
Overall, a pretty good book, probably closer to 3.5 stars than 4. It did start off kinda slow. The main character only had like 2 pages of activity in the first 20% of the book. The plot wasn't all that surprising, I was able to figure out the main twists well before climax. The ultimately responsible murderer was a surprise, though not the reason why. The character development was decent and I really liked Gideon, John and Joly. The later scene at Mont St. Michel seemed a little forced, though it's a place I would LOVE to visit.
The eBook was formatted reasonably well with no obvious spelling or grammatical errors, though the line spacing was a little odd at times.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 16, 2014
Posted April 29, 2014
I really enjoyed this mystery, good characters, interesting place, murder! I appreciated the lack of vulgar language! This book made me want to fly to France and help solve the mystery!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 26, 2014
Posted April 26, 2014
I love mysteries which involve modern day sleuths solving crimes which have origins in medieval past. As a Catholic, the Vatican and all the rumored and actual intrigue, I find quite interesting. So much was not taught in parochial grade, high school or college. This book has opened my mind to investigate further Rome, the Vatican, etc. to see what is true & what is fictionWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 25, 2014
Posted December 5, 2009
Posted October 6, 2014
No text was provided for this review.
Posted November 2, 2009
No text was provided for this review.
Posted October 31, 2008
No text was provided for this review.
Posted April 3, 2013
No text was provided for this review.