Predictably Good: Kathy Reichs’ Bones Of The Lost
Lady Mystery Week Day Two y’all! Yesterday’s piece was about one o’them newfangled brooding postmodern types of novels, so today we’re gliding on back to a more traditional sort of mystery thing: the non-detective who somehow ends up in the middle of incredibly complicated cases that result in personal peril in every book. It’s a common trope (looking at you, Patricia Cornwell and Nicci French) but if you’re going to go that route, Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan series is the best way to go.
You’ve probably run across some of the books in the series (we’re at book 16 now, people) as they end up being the sort of ubiquitous paperbacks that somehow breed on their own and show up in vacation rental homes, doctor’s offices, and those coffeeshops that have a “take a book, leave a book” thing going on. Also, too, there’s the teevee show, Bones, that is loosely based on the series and stars the Deschanel who is not Zooey.
Brennan, the series’ protagonist, is a forensic anthropologist who is called to crime scenes when the deterioration of bodies is super-bad and requires some sort of bone specialist person. (That’s the technical term. We looked it up.) This might come across a bit precious but for the fact that she’s modeled on Reichs herself, who is actually pretty fucking baller credential-wise. Doctorate in physical anthropology, works in both Canada and the USA, teaches at the FBI Academy, consulted with the genocide tribunal in Rwanda, helped ID September 11 victims. You know the type. A real underachiever.
Reichs’ professional activities often form the backbone of her novels, and this one is no exception. Reichs went over to Afghanistan as part of a USO tour in 2011, and this book has Brennan spend some quality time overseas with the military mid-book when she’s asked to help clear a Marine of charges of shooting a civilian. The main plot, however concerns a Jane Doe found dead in a hit and run who may or may not have been murdered and who may or may not be connected to a shady and supposed-to-be-dead local businessman. Along the way, Brennan assists the FBI with an antiquities smuggling ring because apparently she didn’t have enough to do.
To explain the plot much more gets spoiler-y, but suffice to say that all threads unsurprisingly intersect at some point and there’s a few big reveals that make everything clear. The tying together is a little clunky and overly coincidental, but you’re still pretty riveted as Brennan sorts it all out. Perhaps the most difficult plot twist to take is the one that appears in almost all books of this sort: the protagonist strikes out without backup into extreme danger-land because that is the only way to solve the case. No one would want to live in these crime-ridden cities where the police are never around when things go completely south and random professional citizens have to solve everything/get kidnapped/get shot/experience some sort of terrible thing.
Should you read it? Well. it’s a classic beach read or late-night page turner. It’s fun and Brennan has always been a likable lead character and Reichs has been great about letting her evolve as a person with a divorce, a child growing up, and an on again/off again relationship. Unfortunately, it’s just that evolution that means this might not be the book for you if you haven’t kept up on the series, as you’ll be utterly unable to track how and why the soon-to-be-ex husband is important, how the daughter has grown, and where the on-again off-again boyfriend is this time. It doesn’t interfere whatsoever with your ability to track the plot, but you’ll miss out on what makes the book’s denizens interesting and interconnected. So – yes, you should read it if you’re already invested in the series. If you’re not, you can probably find a healthy chunk of the series under your couch cushion or on someone’s desk at the office to get you started.
Rating: On a scale from Patricia Cornwell to Agatha Christie, this is a solid Scott Turow.
Bones of the Lost: A Temperance Brennan Novel is out now via Scribner.