The Bones of the Lost by Kathy Reichs
Well, having enjoyed Dr Temperance Brennan in my first, delayed outing into the book form, I continue to eat up the spin-off television series Bones, featuring Emily Deschanel as Brennan, leader in forensic anthropology. In another world, I saw this described as a form of prequel to the books. Given the age disparity between the two versions of Brennan that’s stretching things but we don’t need to concern ourselves with the issue here. With my usual skill, I’ve managed to miss a book in the series. Apparently she went into darkest Canada the last time round, but in The Bones of the Lost by Kathy Reichs (Scribner, 2013) Dr Temperance Brennan Book 16, she now finds herself back “home” in Charlotte. In the broad narrative arc, Andrew Ryan has gone AWOL while her husband persists. I suppose the lovers for characters like Brennan must always be unreliable. Remarkably she’s still married (even at the end of this book we’re still not sure whether the divorce papers have actually been filed to complete the termination of the marriage) and so finds herself in deep emotional waters as no-one quite stacks up in the longer term to replace her husband. Their daughter Katy is all grown up now, and with the independent-mindedness you would expect from a child produced by Brennan, the infant warrior has joined the army and shipped out to Afghanistan — not quite the ideal way of mourning the death of her boyfriend. Needless to say, both parents worry about the extent to which she’s going to be exposed to danger which, in Brennan’s case, is somewhat ironic. All of which brings us to the mystery/thriller core of the book.
There are three separate “crimes” for our hero to investigate. We start off with a hit-and-run victim out on a fairly deserted stretch of highway. It’s a young girl. The good news is that “Skinny” Slidell is allocated the case. The bad news is that he thinks the girl was an illegal immigrant, earning a few dollars by selling her body. Investigating the deaths of prostitutes is never high on any Police Department’s list of priorities and despite the evidence strongly suggesting this is a murder case, Brennan knows this case is likely to sit on the back burner. The only point of interest is that she has a US Airways club card belonging to John-Henry Story, a man who died in a fire some months earlier. At least the circumstantial evidence very strongly suggested the remains were John-Henry Story. If that identification is correct, what’s this young girl doing with this club card? Brennan therefore makes this case a personal crusade. She’s going to go all out to catch the killer. Also waiting for her at the County Medical Examiner’s Office are some mummified dogs from Peru intercepted by US Customs. The man responsible according to the documentation is Dominick Rockett, a Desert Storm vet. Finally, her husband talks her into accepting a military job. The selling point is the opportunity to meet their daughter in Afghanistan. We’re therefore given the chance to see Brennan “under fire” in hostile territory.
The most impressive feature of this book is the meticulous way in which the plot is put together. Although there’s an amazing amount of coincidence and contrivance on display, you can’t help but admire the virtuoso way in which all the details are woven together to explain what’s going on and who’s responsible. Combine this with a high-paced delivery and you have a high-class mystery thriller that should match the other books in the Best Seller lists.
I have one very minor complaint. Reluctantly, I accept mountains of acronyms when I read military and some espionage fiction, but I think the citing of military jargon and its immediate decoding is overdone in this book. For once, I think the author has allowed herself to be too impressed by her own research. The only other issue to address is the message of the book. In other reviews, e.g. Invisible Murder by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis, I’ve commented on the extent to which the identification and discussion of an issue of contemporary significance can or should be fitted into a genre rather than an explicitly political or literary novel. I accept a great deal of good can be achieved by discussion of difficult issues by very popular writers. It gives everyone a chance to explore what they feel. In this case, I think the author has avoided the trap. Brennan’s interest in the girl arises naturally because she feels every victim deserves her best efforts. This may not happen because the police classify her as a probable prostitute and therefore a more disposable member of society. That the victim later proves to have been one of several women trafficked and forced into prostitution does not distract us from unravelling the mystery. It does, perhaps, become slightly more heavy-handed during the epilogue, but I think the book preserves its essential character of a mystery while making some constructive comments on the appalling practice of human trafficking. Put all this together and The Bones of the Lost is a wonderfully entertaining read, seamlessly blending the scientific with the more practical side of investigating crimes, and providing the excitement of a thriller ending.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.