Mystery 'Good Blood' is in the right vein

The prologue of Aaron Elkins' mystery, "Good Blood" (Berkley Prime Crime, $23.95), may remind readers of a plot suitable for the first scene of a Verdi opera.

Then the book turns modern.

All through, it sustains interest. It's quite complicated, but has surprises all along.

It begins in 1960 in Stresa, Italy. Domenico de Grazia has a daughter and wants a male heir, but his wife can't have more children. He won't consider adoption because he wants the boy to have the de Grazia "good blood." So he pays his niece Emma to bear his child through artificial insemination, and she gives birth to a boy, Vincenzo.

But Emma becomes depressed. When her young unmarried laundress becomes pregnant, Domenico suggests that Emma and her husband adopt that child, which they do. They name the boy Filiberto.

Skip to the present. In Stresa, a chauffeur is driving Vincenzo's teenage son to school when the boy is kidnapped. In a gun battle, one of the kidnappers and the chauffeur kill each other.

How is an American anthropologist, Gideon Oliver, aka the Skeleton Detective, going to get mixed up in this?

The canny Elkins can find a way.

Gideon and his wife are in Italy on a tour led by an American friend named Phil -- formerly Filiberto, from Italy. Phil invites them to his family's island near Stresa where, it turns out, the family is about to gather to discuss the kidnapping. There, Gideon meets the police officer in charge of the case, Tullio Caravale.

Soon, a skeleton is discovered by a crew laying pipe. Caravale asks Gideon to look at it, which he does. It isn't the kidnapped boy.

The bones are taken to the morgue, which is broken into that night, and Gideon is viciously attacked. Another murder follows.

The books in this series usually rely on Gideon's special know-how to identify unearthed skeletons. But in this, the 11th book, Caravale realizes right away that it's Domenico de Grazia, who was thought to have drowned while sailing alone 10 years earlier.

But not to worry -- Gideon hasn't been sidelined totally. He will lend a hand in figuring everything out.

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