Exploring and expanding the genre of detective murder mysteries - that is the true definition of Kathy Reich's new novel. And gutsy is the only word to describe her creation, Temperance Brennan, her heroine from the earlier best-seller.
Temperance is a forensic anthropologist, which means she works with the police to help identify dead and mutilated carcasses from their bones. The book opens with her trying to find the body of a century old nun who is being nominated for sainthood, so that she can identify it. Brennan finds the body and gets back to life in cold Quebec, where she is on work from her native town of Charlotte, Virginia. Once there, the story begins to unfold.
Brennan is called to the scene of a gruesome murder, where a whole family was murdered and then burnt to death. During the investigations, Brennan makes a number of grotesque findings which reveal a brutality which seems inhuman. Soon, another such case turns up; this time involving two young babies. Brennan soon seems to be surrounded in trouble and mystery, what with the niece of one of the nuns missing, too. Just about then, her younger and precocious sister, Harry, lands up for a herbal seminar. Harry seems to hit it off with Detective Ryan who's working with Brennan on the cases.
The whole thing looks like the work of a satanic cult and Brennan is hot on their trail, finding some fishy characters both at home and in Quebec.
The book is fast-paced and has a fluctuating style between abrupt sentences and long explanations. Since Brennan is a character based completely on Reichs herself, the attention to detail cannot be faulted. Neither can the descriptions of the methods by which identification is done. What can be faulted, though, are the lurid descriptions and the "I-want-to-shock-you" attitude of the author. Some of the passages can even be nauseating...and although they may be true, I don't think the common public would care too much for material like this.
The characters are subsequent to the plot except Brennan who seems to be as little in control of her life as of the situation at hand. She displays exemplary courage and composure while at her job but falls apart on a personal level, especially with her love-interest, Ryan. The others just fill up the spaces for Brennan and the bodies to shine.
The book is worth a look-see for its new way of dealing with the genre and for the considerable information in it.This article was first published on 03 Oct 2000.