My review of Aaron Elkins’ Twenty Blue Devils


The dead man is the manager of Tahiti’s Paradise Coffee Plantation, producer of the most expensive coffee bean in the world, the winey, luscious Blue Devil. Nothing tangible points to foul play behind his fall from a cliff, but FBI agent John Lau, a relative of the coffee-growing family, has his suspicions. What he needs is evidence, and who better to provide it than his friend, anthropologist Gideon Oliver, the Skeleton Detective? Gideon is willing to help, but surprisingly—and suspiciously—both the police and the other family members refuse to okay an exhumation order. As a result, Gideon, to his surprise and against his better judgment, finds himself sneaking into a graveyard under cover of night with John, a flashlight, and a shovel—not exactly up to the professional standards of the world’s most famous forensic anthropologist, but necessary under the circumstances.

Gideon prefers his bones ancient, dry, and dusty, but the body he must examine had lain in the tropical sun for a week before it was found and then buried native-style—shallow, with no casket—so it is not exactly his . . . well, cup of tea. But it is not the state of the remains that bothers him the most, it is the deeper human ugliness that his examination uncovers: subtle clues that do indeed point to foul play, to mistaken identity, and to a murderous conspiracy that may have percolated through the family for decades—and brewed a taste for murder

4 Stars

I had the murderer wrong. Dang. I had some of the other fishy stuff figured right, but not the actual culprit.

The story was paced well. I liked all the characters (no one annoyed me this time) and the setting. The storyline was interesting. It was kind of fun getting a peek into John’s family. And Tahiti is one of the places I’ve always wanted to visit.

I’m not sure if the author does it intentionally or not, this isn’t the first time it’s happened, but geography was off again. Mururoa is southeast of Tahiti, not southwest. There was another part where one of the characters said something like ‘people drink half as much coffee as they did 30 years ago’ which struck me as off. When I looked it up, yes consumption in the US in the late ’90s was considerably down from its peak. But the peak was just after WWII, in 1948, and level had only dropped about a third from that point 50 years before the novel came out. What’s more, world wide consumption had increased, and has continued to do so even through this last worldwide recession. Easily verifiable items shouldn’t be making it through the editing process. It sort of bugs me.

The eBook was formatted decently with only a couple of minor spelling mistakes (probably from the OCR, ‘rn’ became ‘m’, things like that) and only a couple of odd paragraph/line breaks (which appear to be Nook specific again).