Sunday, April 12, 2009

Bare Bones (book) by Kathy Reichs

I admit I've never read one of Kathy Reichs' books before this one. I recently became addicted to the TV show Bones, which includes a note in the opening credits saying that the show is based upon the life of Kathy Reichs (or something like that, I can't remember the exact wording at the moment). In my head, I translated this note as "based upon the books by Kathy Reichs" - I think it's an understandable mistake, since Temperance Brennan is the main character in both series. However, this also created expectations in my mind that the book just couldn't live up to.

I find Bones the TV show to be interesting in general. Although I'm sure actual forensic anthropologists cringe at some of the things the people on that show are able to do (I don't know for sure, but Angela, with her 3-D holographic displays, might be the worst offender), I have no problems suspending my disbelief and enjoying the ride. I have just enough knowledge about biological anthropology to be fascinated by what and how people do things on the show and what they discover. I like the mystery elements, I like the characters, and I like the flashes of humor.

I love Bones, but that doesn't mean I'm going to turn around and say I hated Bare Bones, just because it had almost nothing in common with Bones. It'd be more accurate to say that I enjoyed Bare Bones after I adjusted to its almost complete lack of connection to the show. The only similarity between the two is that they both have a character named Temperance Brennan who is a forensic anthropologist. The two Temperances don't work in the same places (Book Tempe is based in North Carolina and Montreal), don't have the same personalities, don't do the same things (no writing career for Book Temperance), and aren't around the same people.

Now that I've got that off my chest, I'll talk about what did go on in the book.

Temperance (aka Tempe) wants nothing more than to get caught up on her work so that she can enjoy some fun in the sun with Detective Don Juan (better known as Ryan). Unfortunately, the universe isn't cooperative, and Tempe finds herself dealing with an infant who was incinerated in a wood stove by its mother, a mysterious bag of bones (mostly bear and bird) discovered by her dog, and the victims of a plane crash (which was probably connected to drug trafficking). The incinerated infant is especially hard for Tempe, because she was once acquainted with the young mother's father. As Tempe tries to wrap up all these cases, she gradually discovers that they're all connected. Worse, there's someone out there who doesn't want her to find out more than she already has and is willing to kill her and/or those she loves to get her to back off.

As I said, I began this book with the expectation that it would have at least a few similarities with Bones, so I spent a good chunk of the beginning of the book disappointed. This book doesn't have the same flashes of humor, and it certainly doesn't have characters I recognized. However, I kept at it, because I found the forensic anthropology to be really interesting. Sometimes, I wished Tempe had spent a little more time in the lab (or out in the field) and a little less time with Ryan and her daughter, because I found her work more interesting than her personal life.

Ryan is apparently close to perfect. He visited Tempe with the expectation that they'd actually get to spend some relaxing time together, but he doesn't bat an eyelash when she's stuck working and, at times, dragging him out to find bodies with her. He's laid back, sexy, good in bed, and he'd have been there to watch her back if he hadn't had a family emergency. Despite all of this, Tempe has yet to officially divorce her husband (they're technically separated, since she hasn't signed divorce papers, and the two of them do see each other, although they don't in this book). Ryan's got to be aware of this, but it doesn't seem to bother him, at least not in this book.

Tempe's daughter was a huge surprise to me, since she was the first definitive proof that I wasn't dealing with the same Temperance that I knew from the TV show. Temperance from the show is maybe a bit young to have a daughter who's in college, and I really don't see her ever having children, anyway. Book Tempe's daughter is, I think, in her 20s. I don't know too much about her, except that she seems to be pretty bubbly and was interested in a very good-looking young man in this book.

Have I mentioned that Book Tempe is a former alcoholic? That was also a surprise, since it's so unlike TV Tempe.

One of the things Reichs likes to do, a lot, is foreshadow future bad events. Unfortunately, I think she overdoes it a little. In the very first sentence, she tells readers that Tempe will be killing someone by the end of the book. Later on, she makes sure to tell the reader that, although Tempe feels safe at the moment, this is the last time she'll feel safe for a while - those weren't the exact words, but they're close. Tempe's final moments of danger felt a bit lukewarm after all that strongly worded foreshadowing, and Tempe's not even conscious when it all finally ends - the reader has to be told how Tempe survived, which isn't exactly an exciting way for Reichs to do things.

Throughout the book, I also kept have big, neon "coincidence" signs going off in my head. While it was interesting that all the cases intertwined so nicely, it's still incredible that Tempe happened to stumble upon all of this at one time.

Overall, I found the forensic anthropology in the book interesting enough that I think I'm going to try another book in the series (I'll have to see if I can hunt down the first one - I hadn't realized when I picked this up that it was actually the sixth book in the series). It could be that some of things that bothered me in this particular book are only present in this book. I guess I'll just have to see. Anyway, none of it really bothered me enough to cause me to dislike the book - I just wasn't completed enthused about it either.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Postmortem (book) by Patricia Cornwell - In this first book in Cornwell's Scarpetta series, Dr. Kay Scarpetta, chief medical officer for the commonwealth of Virginia, uses computer data and forensic clues to try to find a killer who strangles young women. Scarpetta has to deal with male officials who believe they're superior to a woman and a killer who eventually targets her. Those who'd like another first-person mystery that relies a great deal on forensic evidence may want to try this.
  • Bones (TV series) - Temperance Brennan, a cynical and socially-stunted forensic anthropologist, is partnered with a cocky FBI agent to solve various murders. Those who'd like more mysteries which rely on forensic details might want to try this. Keep in mind, however, that this series differs a great deal from Kathy Reichs's books.
  • Trace Evidence (book) Elizabeth Becka - Forensic scientist Evelyn James is called in to investigate the death of a young woman found in a river with her feet encased in a block of cement. James begins to fear for her own daughter's safety as trace evidence links the dead woman to another murdered girl and also to a male nurse at a local hospital. Those who'd like another forensic mystery written by someone with first-hand experience (Becka is an "evidence specialist" who works as a latent print examiner for the city of Cape Coral, Florida, police department) might want to try this.
  • One Grave Too Many (book) by Beverly Connor - In this first book in a series, Diane Fallon, a forensic anthropologist, has taken a job at a museum and believes she'll never use her forensic expertise again. However, when her old boyfriend, Detective Frank Duncan, asks for her help in examining a bone he found in the woods, she feels she has no choice but to help him. Those who'd like another mystery featuring interesting forensic details might want to try this.
  • The Surgeon (book) by Tess Gerritsen - Years ago in Savannah, a serial killer was raping women and then surgically removing their intestines and uterus. His last victim was Dr. Catherine Cordell, who managed to shoot him when he tried to cut her. She thought he had died, but now someone is killing women in Boston in the exact same way - Dr. Cordell fears she may be on the killer's list of potential victims. Detective Thomas Moore and his partner Rizzoli must try to stop the killer. Those who'd like another suspenseful murder mystery with gory details and intense investigators might want to try this. The Sinner, one of the later books in the series, includes Dr. Maura Isles, a medical examiner.

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