There is nothing like junk reading to blot out the sky. Not that the sky needs blotting out -- or even the weather -- but sometimes just disappearing into a murder mystery is a good thing. And, this is not just because much teaching of some kinds of information occurs in murder mysteries and other kinds of fiction these days. From areas of archaeology and history to recipes and forensics, we often learn as we read even when reading "junk." (A concern, of course, is whether what we learn is accurate or not. Also, there are always the more obscure pedagogical implications of junk reading, related to the commodification of the mind and etcetera. We must ask how much of what we read is correct and how we might either find that out or, at minimum, avoid allowing edutainment substitute for learning.) But for today's purposes, the fact that the main sleuth in this particular nugget is an anthropologist who focuses on bones (and is known as the Skeleton Doctor) and the author, Aaron Elkins, uses every moment to teach us about bones, is not the issue! Did you know, for example, that if you are conscious and go over a cliff, you tend to land feet down while if unconscious or dead you tend to fall horizontally and land on face or back? Neither did I.
For Cooking with Ideas purposes, Dying on the Vine, though, is about more than skeletal remains. As you might guess, the relevant vine is the grape vine. The location is Tuscany and the background industry -- you guessed it again -- is the wine industry. Unlike the more pedantic approach of Gideon Oliver (the Skeleton Doctor) which forces his putative listeners to learn (and thereby Elkins' readers), we do not learn much about wine or wine making in this particular mystery. But it is there, including plot irrelevant disputes about the use of certain new(er) technologies in the making of wine and a brief reference to the University of California Davis enology program.
I admit it. I have read better mysteries, including better ones in this series. I figured out the perpetrator relatively early in the book (for me). The prose felt a tad plodding -- the running joke that the lead character talked too much and was over detailed in explanations simply did not make up for that very feature. Alas.
But: Dying On the Vine took me away. It brought me back to Cooking with Ideas. For both effects, I am grateful.