It was supposed to be a leisurely, laid-back holiday for Gideon Oliver, professor and anthropologist (Dead Men's Hearts, 1994, etc.), and his wife, Julie: a bit of touring in England and France, combined with a little lowkey research for Bones to Pick, Gideon's book on the history of hoaxing. And then comes the phone call from a former associate, Inspector Lucien Joly, a French police officer of considerable standing. Bones have been discovered in an ancient cave, he tells Gideon, but they’re not ancient bones. Will Gideon come at once to Les EyziesdeTayac, site of the prestigious Institute of Prehistory—and of the possibly scandalous bones? Since Gideon had been heading there eventually to interview old friends for the sake of his research, only the mildest rerouting is required. But once he arrives, ``the skeleton detective'' finds his life heading down uncomfortable byways indeed as he ponders two nagging questions about those bones. Whose were they? And how are they connected to the embarrassing hoax known to the paleontological world as ``The Old Man of Tayac''? Ambition and greed, Gideon soon learns, have led several of the Institute's members to deplorable behavior, and one of them to murder. Brilliant as they are, he concludes (not for the first time) that scientists, trapped in their flesh and bones, are inescapably human.
Gideon remains likable, but the pace is as slow as skeletons dancing a minuet.