Posts Tagged ‘forensic anthropology’

Bones Never Lie by Kathy Reichs

August 21, 2014 3 comments

Bones Never Lie by Kathy Reichs

Bones Never Lie by Kathy Reichs (Bantam, 2014) is the seventeenth to feature Temperance Brennan. This begins with our hero called into the Cold Case Unit at the Law Enforcement Centre in Charlotte, N.C. The meeting has been triggered by a Vermont detective called Umparo Rodas who has linked one of his cases to others involving Anique Pomperleau. This is a woman who has kidnapped, tortured, and killed young girls. She managed to elude Brennan and the then lead detective, Andrew Ryan, in Monday Mourning (2004). This return to the Pomperleau case is professionally and personally embarrassing to our hero because, having worked with Andrew Ryan in Montreal, they had become occasional lovers. After the death of his teenage daughter from a drug overdose, he has dropped completely out of sight. So Temperance’s first job is to track him down and persuade him to return to civilisation and the investigation of crime. She’s not entirely sure where to start looking but Brennan’s mother, Daisy, turns out to be not only skilled with computers, but also intensely manipulative and potentially dying of cancer. She comes up with a vital piece of information as to where he might be hiding and, courtesy of a flight south of the border, the full cold case team is in play. Meanwhile Erskine “Skinny” Slidell is dealing with a new kidnapping and, of course, the resulting dead body may be tied into the serial killer’s growing list of victims. Once Ryan is back up to speed, they do what they can locally and then fly up to Canada to see if anyone remembers anything that might help then find Pomperleau before she kills again. We then come to one of these very ingenious clues that takes them down to Vermont. I read books for clues like this. They are unlikely ever to work in the real world but, on paper, you are just left with admiration for the author in having created it.

Kathy Reichs

Kathy Reichs

This is a particularly pleasing book in which our hero follows the trail of breadcrumbs using the tools of her trade. Whereas other fictional detectives rely on others to do the forensic work and then apply their own idiosyncratic intelligence to determine whodunnit, Brennan comes as the complete package. She has the knowledge and skills to look at the bones, observe an autopsy, and ask pertinent questions. Yes, she’s less than tactful in this book and shows less patience than usual. We can put that down to the combination of her mother’s “condition”, the reappearance of Ryan, and the general sense of disgust all feel when dealing with cases involving children and young adults. The result is a simple story of medical detective work, told in uncluttered prose which zips us along to the necessary melodramatic confrontation, followed by the debriefing explanations and an epilogue. It’s a very professionally put-together murder mystery involving a serial killer.

This is not to say the book is without flaws. For example, there’s no reason for Brennan’s mother to turn out to be so impressive. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time we’ve met the mother (her father has been dead a long time). I can understand why Kathy Reichs might want to introduce the character. It gives more depth to the general understanding of Brennan. But it would have been sufficient for the plot to stop at the psychological condition and cancer. Police forces can sometimes be allowed to shine when serial killers are threatening local children. I also thought the shooting of one individual was unnecessary. Yes, it does explain why no-one among the usual crew is answering their phone at the critical time, but I’m not convinced it fits comfortably into the Slidell character arc. So, overall, Bones Never Lie is a very good story with lots of interesting medical matters demystified. On balance, I think the flaws relatively minor, leaving this book on my recommended list.

For reviews of other books by Kathy Reichs, see:
The Bones of the Lost
Flash and Bones.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

The Bones of the Lost by Kathy Reichs

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.

Kathy Reichs and Emily Deschanel picking over the bones

Kathy Reichs and Emily Deschanel picking over the bones

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.

For reviews of other book by Kathy Reichs, see:
Bones Never Lie
Flash and Bones.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Flash and Bones by Kathy Reichs

July 26, 2012 1 comment

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.

Kathy Reichs and Emily Deschanel compare notes

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.

For reviews of other books in the series by Kathy Reichs, see:
Bones Never Lie
The Bones of the Lost.

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