This series written by North America’s leading forensic anthropologist has always been one of my favourites. I usually try to read one per year but I see that it’s been 6 years since Cross Bones (#8). Oops. No matter, it made me come in fresh again and realise what I like about the character of Temperance Brennan and Reichs’ writing.
This one focuses around a mysterious series of bodies that were all killed in the same and unusual way but the link between them remains unclear. Brennan examines bones of long decomposed bodies when it’s too late for autopsies or pathology. Forensic anthropology applies skeletal analysis and techniques in archaeology to solve criminal cases. It’s fascinating science. Reichs bases her novels on real cases in her work, both in the US and Canada. She explains that when she started her job, her field was not a very popular thing, but forensic science crime drama series on TV like CSI have changed all that, and Reichs even got her own series Bones, based on her books.
Aside from the mystery and crime drama, I love the humour and quick witty dialogue that is a hallmark of her writing style. In this one Tempe finds herself stuck on assignment in a house with her former husband and current squeeze which creates some additional tension and the banter is priceless. Hilarity aside, underneath there is real struggle as she is distracted by her own feelings for both men, especially when one of them is hurt during the investigation.
But what I like best about Reichs is her personal philosophical reason for doing what she does–she wants to honour the dead by finding out who they were and what killed them. She says that when bones are found it is the anonymity that is the ultimate insult. Her passion is to reunite the victim with the integrity of their name and cause of death and offer some kind of closure. The motivation for her devotion to her vocation and the fact that her writing is so real because it is extracted from her work, is why I keep coming back for more. But where she found the time to write so many books while advancing a crazy busy career is a mystery I will probably never be able to solve. Check out her website: click here.
Every year or two I read another Kathy Reichs crime novel. I’m reading them in order so that I can also keep tabs on Temperance Brennan’s personal life. Recently I was excited to be in the audience at a BBC radio interview with the author, and got to ask her a question. She is a forensic anthropologist who divides her time between Canada and the US, sits on various boards, and is often a witness in court cases where an expert is needed to testify. Where does she find the time to write novels as well? I asked her if the topics from her series actually come from her own work, and they do. Not surprising, but still nice to know. I’ve actually never watched the popular TV series Bones, based on Reich’s books, mostly because I don’t want to alter the image of the novels in my own mind.
‘Cross Bones’ has an archaeological focus and takes place mostly in Jerusalem. Masada features briefly as well. Temperance and Ryan actually go on the trip together because there is police business to attend to as well. In addition to the taut drama around solving the case, it is obvious from sidebars in the story and in reading between the lines, that the author was affected by her trip to the Holy Land. It is hard not to be, when you see firsthand how conflict is splitting the region apart.
Reichs writes a story with a smart sassy narrative. And Temperance always finds herself in trouble somewhere along the line. But what I enjoy most about her novels is what I learn about the human anatomy from the authentic examination of the bones in her lab. She sort of honours these dead people with her curiosity about who they were and how they lived. As a result she almost brings them back to life.
When an author cranks out a novel a year, you know that it is going to be slightly formulaic and have some repetitive stylistic qualities. Some readers may become irritated by her ‘end of chapter cliffhangers’ and her tendency to sum everything up in lengthy explanations towards the end of the book. But I still find the series quite enjoyable.
Kathy Reichs Website
Where does this author find the time? Kathy Reichs has impressive professional credentials as a forensic anthropologist and manages to write a novel almost every year in addition to her work. Dr. Reichs works for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, State of North Carolina and for the Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciares et de Médecine Légale for the province of Quebec. She is one of only sixty-eight forensic anthropologists certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology and formerly sat on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. A professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, Dr. Reichs is a native of Chicago, where she received her Ph.D at Northwestern. She now divides her time between Charlotte and Montreal and is a frequent expert witness at criminal trials. She also produces the TV series ‘Bones’ which is based on the novels. Like I said, where does she find the time?
What I like about her crime novels is the authenticity of the forensic anthropology which she is expert at. The novels are somewhat formulaic, but I find this more comforting than irritating. She usually is called in to deal with some odd bones which lead to the discovery of a crime. Following her instincts, she investigates, often without the support of her colleagues, gets into danger herself, all the while juggling her private problems and love life while simultaneously solving the mystery! Of course in the end she is ok, and the perps are brought to justice. In a sense she has put herself into the character of Temperance Brennan, who also divides her time between the two locations, has the same credentials, and does the same work. What I like the best is that when she takes on the mystery, she also takes those bones and makes real people out of them. She cares about the people the bones represent and wants to reveal their secrets to honour them, even in death. It all rings rather true, is entertaining, and I usually learn something interesting.
In this particular instalment, she finds some bones in a rat-infested basement of a pizza joint. The mystery leads her into the sad, but all too realistic, story of the kidnapping and brainwashing of these young girls whose bones she has found. In addition to the bones and what they reveal, she also takes on various criminal issues like this and deals very sensitively with them.
The first few books she wrote had French titles: Deja Dead, Death du Jour, and then a number of English titles followed, about one per year. Some are set in the States and some in Canada. Her website will give you a full listing. I’ve read seven so far and enjoy picking one up every year or so. Maybe you will too. I’ve never actually even seen the TV series but I’m sure the books are better! 🙂
Kathy Reichs Website