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Turncoat    by Aaron Elkins order for
by Aaron Elkins
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HarperTorch, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by G. Hall

Aaron Elkins first hit the mystery scene with the very popular paleoanthropologist Gideon Oliver, who applies his knowledge of ancient bones to solving crimes involving more recent skeletons. Long before the current series C.S.I, Elkins hit a nerve with readers eager to learn all about forensic science. Subsequently the author wrote several mysteries featuring art curator Chris Norgren. These are enjoyable, but not in my opinion as good as the Oliver ones.

Unfortunately for fans, the last Oliver book, Skeleton Dance, was written several years ago. Now, with either the author or his publisher having become bored with Oliver, Elkins is writing stand-alone thrillers such as his new book Turncoat. Set in 1963, it is the story of a young couple, Pete and Lily Simon. Pete is a history professor in New York City while Lily works in the school system. They met during the waning days of World War II when Pete was a very young airman and Lily (a Frenchwoman) worked in London for the French resistance movement.

Now, after seventeen happily married years, their life is turned upside down when Lily's father (whom she had told Pete was killed by the Nazis) turns up outside their Brooklyn home. Lily refuses to see him or to discuss her reasons with Pete. Soon afterwards, her father is found murdered. Lily becomes anxious, withdraws from Pete and then disappears, telling Pete only that she needs to get away.

Seeing the foundation of what he thought was a wonderful and close relationship shattered, Pete takes leave from work to try and find Lily. As might be expected from the title, the book revolves around the war and what happened to both Lily and her father in France. Pete, fluent in French, travels there and finds a more and more complex story. Soon one of his contacts is murdered after arranging to meet Pete and give him information, and then Pete himself is threatened.

Though Elkins is skilled at developing plot, this book does not hold the attention as well as it could. His characters seem two-dimensional. While Pete is similar to Gideon Oliver in being very rational and unemotional, the Oliver books had the forensics element to compensate for a less than mesmerizing main character. Turncoat's story and characters are just not as engrossing. Though Elkins does tell a good tale and the book is worth reading, we can only hope that he eventually returns to his Gideon Oliver roots.

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