REVIEW: ‘The Bone Collection’ is a rousing call to action for science advocacy

the bone collection
(Penguin Random House)

Kathy Reichs, author of my favorite crime series, has branched out to a new literary format, the novella. The nearly 20-year old Bones series’ latest installment contains not just one but four great Tempe Brennan stories – count ’em, four!  And served up in bite-sized chunks for those precious but brief moments of quiet that can be grabbed here and there during a busy holiday season.

I’m a hard sell for shorter works of fiction – if a story is good I want it to go on and on, like a George R.R. Martin epic or the unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo.  But I have had some good experiences with the shorter format as well, such as those by Stephen King. Kathy Reichs is a particularly favorite author of mine so I was willing to try The Bone Collection out.  I have to say: she has done a great job of taking advantage of this narrative structure.  The reader is pulled from North Carolina, to the steamy Everglades, on to the lethal upper slopes of Mt. Everest, and back again.  The intrigue and mystery have been condensed to snappy stories that don’t stop firing for a moment’s pause.  Sprinkled throughout are Reichs’ classic, say-no-more, witty descriptions and metaphors.  One of my personal favorites in this collection: “[he] led me through a marble-floored foyer to a small office that had lost a battle with Laura Ashley.”

But the pièce de résistance for me in this collection was the author’s notes provided with every story.  Kathy Reichs is a world-renowned expert in forensic anthropology and many of her stories are inspired by her professional work.  Having a window into her thoughts around the creation of each story was a fascinating and very welcome addition to her writing.

In addition to providing her readers with more color about the intersections of her literary and scientific careers, The Bone Collection also displays a new level of science-based advocacy for Reichs.  Kathy Reichs is a rare combination, a gifted, highly entertaining writer with a deep scientific expertise.  In a time of waning public trust in science, those who are educating and advocating for science-backed causes with accessible language are invaluable.  Reichs’s stories have always included impeccable science wrapped in an interesting tale, but The Bone Collection tales include calls to action for those readers moved by the undesirable circumstances each story presents.

The final story, for example, is set in the early days of the rise of the AIDS epidemic in the mid-80’s.  For the die-hard Brennan fans – hold your breath – it is the origin story of how Tempe came to be a forensic anthropologist.  But more than that, the story captures perfectly the fear and loathing that impeded proper medical care for many HIV infected patients for far too long.  I remember it well, as it was a key motivator to myself and others around me to study the field of medicinal chemistry and to try to contribute to the discovery of life-saving drugs.  In reading these fictional stories, we gain a small piece of insight into the underlying science, and can then begin to make informed decisions and choices in our real life stories.


About Andrea Sefler

Andrea Sefler
Andrea is a consultant and technical writer for various scientific software and instrumentation companies. She has a Ph.D. in chemistry from Berkeley and has never met a genre of music or books that she hasn’t liked. As a gamer since the days of the Apple II, Andrea can relate any number of hair-raising tales about role-playing games stored on 360 kB 5.25” floppy disks and may, someday, put them to paper.

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