Last fall, one of my favorite serial novelists, Kathy Reichs, published the latest in her long-running Temperance Brennan “Bones” novels, Bones Never Lie. And though I’m a wee bit late with this review, far better late than never, right?
This highly popular crime series began in 1997 with Déjà Dead and Reichs has been faithfully publishing an annual installment since. The series has a number of interesting elements that keep the stories fresh and engrossing, beginning with the heroine Temperance Brennan, who narrates the novels.
Brennan’s specialty is forensic anthropology, a fascinating branch of standard homicide investigative techniques dealing with highly decomposed/skeletonized remains. As a globally recognized expert who remains very active in this field, Reichs imbues Brennan with a completely credible and adept voice. Reichs, in fact, is impeccable with regards to the science in the books and takes great care to get the details correct.
But Brennan is more than just a superwoman über-brainy character. She is humanized and rendered believable with flaws – a recovering alcoholic, divorced with shaky interpersonal relationships, impatient and mouthy at times, but always taking the greatest care with her work. There are geographic and cultural elements of interest to the story as well. Much like Reichs herself, Brennan holds joint appointments in the state of North Carolina and Montreal, Canada, and the books may be based in either or both locations to add flavor and variety to the stories. And sprinkled throughout the books are Reichs’s sassy, snappy witticisms, e.g. “She was about as deep as a powder room sink,” or “He looked like a man on his way to a prostate exam.”
Bones Never Lie lays down another superbly entertaining and thrilling mystery story within this highly enjoyable framework. Several cold cases have been linked via new evidence to a killer from Brennan’s past, Anique Pomerleau. Pomerleau had escaped justice in the very first book of the series, Déjà Dead, but appears to have resurfaced. Brennan is requested to re-examine the victim remains and bring Andrew Ryan, the detective in Montreal who also worked the original case, to consult.
The complication is that Ryan, Brennan’s mercurial on-again, off-again lover, has gone AWOL and has indicated that he does not want to be contacted. In addition, Brennan’s mentally ill mother is dying of cancer. Although this sounds like high drama, Reichs does not use these plot elements solely to provide voyeuristic-style entertainment, but rather to underscore Brennan’s professionalism and commitment to her field in the face life’s myriad difficulties. The reader is left with a strong sense of the heroine’s passion to provide the victims she examines and their families with the dignity of as much explanation and closure as she can possibly provide.
If Reichs sometimes gets any criticism, it is usually that she provides too much scientific detail regarding the forensics such that the pace of her books drag at times. I would, however, disagree strongly with this assessment. I always value the opportunity to serendipitously learn and enjoy hearing about the subject from such an accomplished practitioner as this.