The book opens in 1994 with a female pilot, Claudia, and an oldish man, a Torkelsson brother, fleeing Hawaii in the night. The plane gently glides down to the ocean from 10,500 feet ("A light plane that has run out of fuel at an altitude of 10,500 feet does not plummet to earth like a safe falling out of a window"), a wing hits the water, and it’s all over for that flight.
Jump forward 10 years and some swimmers from a cruise ship spot the plane and investigate it. Going by the plane's registration number, the Torkelsson family is informed of the find.
The Torkelsson family lost two brothers on the same day in 1994, one apparently murdered by hitmen, and the other apparently fleeing for his life. Now that they know that plane went down, they have to reopen old wounds (three years after having the second brother declared legally dead). And, the family worries about their future. Dagmar, the sister, and the two brothers Magnus and Torkel lived together and built a large cattle ranch in Hawaii (an older brother also was involved, Andreas, but was long out of the picture in 1994-2004, though it is his children that fill out the Torkelsson next generation). As far as the family is concerned, Torkel died first in 1994, and then Magnus was declared dead in 2001 (I might have that last date wrong). If Torkel's will had been in effect, the nephews and nieces would have received a small amount of money. Since Magnus' will was in effect, as he was declared dead second, the nephews and nieces received very valuable pieces of the huge cattle ranch. With Magnus "alive" after Torkel, Magnus and Dagmar received the bulk of Torkel's estate, and then after Magnus was declared dead, the nephews and nieces received their cut. The business of the dueling wills plays in the background of the book.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, Gideon Oliver, the "Skeleton Detective," and his friend John Lau, FBI Agent, are visiting the family and are able to provide their particular expertise.
For the most part, the characters have distinct personalities and appear to be more than mere ciphers. There is a real feel that we might actually be in the Hawaii islands, and the plot is workable. Unfortunately, Aaron Elkins alternates from some very good books, to some pretty lousy books. This book falls in the middle. It is a little too shallow, though if you like the series, it is a nice short read.