Although there’s an element of futility in buying ever more books in the hope I’ll somehow manage to read them all before I die, I continue the practice and, having disposed of all but one of the books in the latest batch sent to me for review, I have the chance to start reading a few books for my own interest. So faced with this sudden freedom of choice, I start with Flash and Bones by Kathy Reichs (Scribner, 2011). You should understand by now that I’m not driven by the desire to consume great literature. When I was just starting out, I read omnivorously to map the boundaries of taste. This led me to match the classics with the popular fiction of the day. Now I’m so deep into the genres, few of the books I’ve read over the last forty years would be considered readable by the majority of the population. If you asked for the common denominator, it would be that I prefer the simple escapism of a good story, well told. Since the routines of life are boring when reproduced in fiction, my interest strays far off the reservation with science fiction, fantasy, horror and mystery.
I’ve been a fan of Bones since it first appeared way back when and, for those of you who care about details, I’ve seen up to the end of Season 5 which just goes to show I have a life outside television. No doubt I will catch up to the rest of the world when my local free-to-air station decides to deliver Seasons 6 and 7. There’s a rather pleasing quality about Dr Temperance Brennan as played by Emily Deschanel, somehow managing to combine that other-worldly boffin quality with the innocent desire to use her knowledge for the public good. Setting her against the rather more practical and intuitive Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) has been a triumph of casting as we all wait to see how far their relationship will go — yes, yes we all know where it will go but it’s the suspense thing which, in emotional terms, feels credible despite the often extraordinary nature of the crimes they are called on to investigate.
So, since I like the television show, I’ve been waiting to read the books that inspired the television producers into action. In this case, I’m starting at the end rather than the beginning which is not terribly logical but represents the triumph of expediency — the book was to hand. The first and most obvious surprise is that our heroine is out in the real world rather than stuck in the Jeffersonian Institute in Washington DC. Although this version of Temperance Brennan does go around saying, “I don’t know what that means.” it tends to be because most of the people around her in this exciting episode are talking about NASCAR and, not being even remotely interested in people driving cars faster than the speed of light — even Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace’s podrace bored me to tears — I echo her indifference to the details of racing and its history. Nevertheless, the core of the homicide cases that come her way in this book have the same quality of otherness. As a man of few practical skills, my mind balks at the thought of a killer taking a body, placing it in a drum and then filling the drum with asphalt. I understand how clever people with access to household chemicals and a few lumps of fertiliser can make a bomb, but boiling up some asphalt on the kitchen stove is somewhat outside my usual estimation of the practical. We then get into the consideration of how the killer contrived to transport the resulting lump from wherever the asphalt was heated and poured to its final resting place underground. This is not something conveniently popped into the pocket until it can be dropped unobserved into a convenient hole. We’re talking serious weight and the probable use of a mechanical digger. Anyway, no matter how it got there, the body is exhumed from its tarry shroud, and is soon spirited away by the FBI and burned. Yes, it’s another of these FBI cover-up stories as our intrepid heroine gets all fired up to investigate not only the deaths where she has the bodies, but also the disappearance of a young couple some years earlier. This also carries overtones of corruption in the local police force as one of the investigating officers spent two years in jail for taking bribes.
The third strand of the story shows the complete separation of this Temperance Brennan from the television version. One of the character’s more endearing qualities on screen is her lack of social skills. This Temperance Brennan is worldly wise yet, for all her experience, she finds herself called on to mediate between her ex-husband and the bimbo he seems to want to marry. Apart from the lust factor to explain why he might want to spend time with her, the intelligence level in this specimen of womanhood would pale in any comparison with the brain of an amoeba. So Kathy Reichs is prepared to play to stereotypes of the type of woman who will lure middle-aged men into relationships.
Told in a slightly pithy style, Flash and Bones takes us through the thought processes that lead to the identification of the killer(s) and explanations of the FBI’s motives for apparently acting against the public interest. It makes for a genuinely interesting intellectual ride although I confess to skipping through all the NASCAR factual stuff as terminally boring. No doubt those of you who follow racing will get double the pleasure for both the background and the mystery solved by this older, wiser Temperance Brennan. I can now see why Kathy Reichs has managed to sell the model of forensic anthropology to the wider audience — although I suppose it helps that this heroine also does the thriller thing of being the woman threatened and managing to survive. This is impressive even though the publisher spared no expense in putting the cover together.