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Dead men's hearts. By Aaron Elkins. New York Mysterious Press. 1994. 240 pp. ISBN 0-89296-466-9. $18.95 (cloth)

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blance to published reports. The earliest
apes were smaller than some of the largest
lemurs. The fact that apes come into estrus
year-round does not allow them to multiply
faster-in fact the reproductive rate of female apes is much lower than that of lemurs. Orangutans and gorillas do not mate
infrequently (unless they reproduce by artificial insemination); most females in the
wild are pregnant or carrying infants
throughout their adult lives. Furthermore,
there is evidence that the so-called male coalitions and “warfare”in Gombe and Mahali
chimps are actually the result of abnormal
and frustrating conditions created by human interference at these sites.
Second, many of Russell’s conclusions
about chimpanzees and humans are contradictory or wrong. For example, the conclusion that male aggression is necessitated by
year-round estrus is unfounded. Year-round
estrus occurs in many monkey species which
live in stable multi-male social systems. As
an evolutionary answer t o male aggression,
Russell believes that monogamy became
characteristic of most human societies and
that polygyny became rare because it
threatened group stability. Yet, out of 862
cultures in the ethnographic atlas, only 16%
are pair bonded, 83%are polygynous.
In his final chapters, Russell attempts to
explain how our behavior is fixed by our evolutionary past. “We are puppets, crafted by
natural selection and motivated by the products of our genes” (p. 223). Yet, he later in-
sists, humans have the free will to override
these inherited behaviors. “. . . few processes in biology are this rigidly determined” . . . we have “the choice to understand and modify our behavior. . . our
biology allows us considerable slack. . . individuals are capable of considerable choice
and change” (pp. 230-231). Thus, the same
old questions remain. What precisely is inherited, and what is determined by learning
and environment? What choices do we have
and what changes can be made?
Russell has the same problems that have
plagued many biological determinists. First,
he labels certain behaviors of lemurs and
apes with anthropomorphic terms (e.g.,
rape, war, macho) then assumes that these
forms of behavior in humans must have
evolved from our primate ancestors. In most
cases it is the labels that are the same, not
the behaviors. Second, Russell chooses primate species he believes mirror human society and then assumes that the behaviors of
these species are universal because they are
humanlike. Finally, he distorts the behavior
of the species he describes to fit his view of
human behavior. We are left with a book
that tells us more about the nature of my
friend Jay Russell than it does about human
Department of Anthropology
Washington University
St. Louis,Missouri
ered, as is usually the case during the course
of Oliver’s travels. Then the stodgy old director of the research institute accidentally
dies, or does he? Much of the book involves
The eighth Gideon Oliver mystery from Gideon’s attempts to solve the mysteries
this award-winning author is set in Egypt. surrounding the two decedents.
Mr. Elkins, who has published archaeolThe protagonist is an American physical anthropologist with expertise in paleoanthro- ogy and has received formal training in
pology, skeletal biology, and forensic anthro- physical anthropology, acknowledges advice
pology. Gideon and his wife take a working and information from a half dozen real fovacation to contribute to a video centered rensic anthropologists, all who belong to the
around the activities of an Egyptology re- American Association of Physical Anthrosearch institute. Not long afterward, a pre- pologists and the American Academy of Fosumably dynastic-era skeleton is discov- rensic Sciences. As a result of his interacDEADMEN’SHEARTS.
By Aaron Elkins. New
York: Mysterious Press. 1994. 240 pp.
ISBN 0-89296-466-9. $18.95 (cloth).
tions with our forensic colleagues, he has
gained a good sense of what forensic anthropologists do.
However, exercising literary license, he
extends to his hero an extremely active role
in the resolution of the mysteries, probably
too active for most of us non-fictional scientists. I found the ending of Dead Men’s
Hearts more than a bit much, to tell the
In the course of the story, Gideon shows
some of what forensic anthropologists are
really like. For example, a character is taken
slightly aback as Oliver munches on a
chicken sandwich while studying a skeleton.
I don’t think anyone would argue the point
that many forensic anthropologists have become inured to death to the extent that they
have some common idiosyncracies. The
reader experiences the valuable forensic science lesson of avoiding assumptions (in this
instance regarding time-since-death), a forensic “war story” (the apparently fictional
Nieman Marcus fragment), Gideon’s boisterous laugh at being totally correct in his
forensic assessment (at least some of us forensic anthropologists have done that at
some time or other, I suspect), as well as an
example, albeit quite brief, of a case report.
Moreover, Gideon expresses relief a t not
having to do a taped segment on the “race”of
prehistoric Egyptians, something more than
a few physical anthropologists might also be
relieved by.
The attribute of occupation as manifested
osteologically is of special focus. However,
I’ve had a case with a malar pathology very
much like what Elkins describes and the individual, subsequently identified, had no
discernible facial evidence of it, either in his
mug shot o r as reported by those who knew
Any physical anthropologist, and especially skeletal biologists and forensic anthropologists, will probably find lots to quibble with in Dead Men’s Hearts; I did. But
here I will only mention the use of a masculine pronoun to describe a murderer whose
gender couldn’t possibly have been known
(at least one female is among several suspects) and the definition of an hypothesis as
“little more than one of many possible tentative explanations based on incomplete
. . . or . . . nonexistent evidence of any k i n d
(p. 61 in my advance reading, uncorrected
page proof copy). Remember, I did say “quibble.”
Here Gideon Oliver is more unrealistic as
a character reflecting what a forensically
oriented physical anthropologist is like, in
comparison with the Gideon of earlier Elkins efforts, if my memory serves me. His
expertise in Egyptology coupled with a passing suggestion that he has a working knowledge of some pharmaceuticals just doesn’t
ring true to what forensic anthropologists
are for the most part like, in my experience
and opinion. That isn’t to dwell on his expertise in Pleistocene phylogeny, something
that forensic anthropologists infrequently
command, or his active role in solving the
mysteries involved and subduing the killer,
to boot.
While physical anthropology is sprinkled
throughout much of the book, most of it and
virtually all of the forensic anthropology are
confined to the middle half. It takes nearly
45 pages to get to the principal venue in
Egypt and the last 65 pages or so are spend
in solving the mysteries and seeing that justice in its own fashion is done.
If you haven’t read a Gideon Oliver mystery, I wouldn’t discourage you from starting
with Dead Men’s Hearts, unless you are really averse to murder mysteries. However, I
enjoyed others in this series at least as
much. Perhaps the last one, Make No
Bones-set a t a forensic anthropology meeting, no less-was the most enjoyable for me.
That doesn’t mean that I didn’t like Dead
Men’s Hearts. I did and I look forward to
reading future Gideon Oliver mysteries.
Department of Anthropology
University of South Florida
Tampa, Florida
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cloth, mysterious, elkins, dead, heart, isbn, 1994, new, 466, york, men, 240, 89296, pres, aaron
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