Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs

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Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs

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Category: Crime
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Dr Tempe Brennan is back with a cold case that might relate to bones lurking in her own fridges. A tape of a tortured girl leads her into more than one missing person enquiry and allegations of nasty things going on in the backwoods. CSI meets Longmire… good puzzle-solving stuff.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: July 2015
Publisher: William Heinemann
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0434021192

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Sometimes you really do need to start at the beginning of a series to get into it. And sometimes it doesn't matter a jot. Kathy Reichs' Tempe Brennan novels fall into the latter category. There's a bit of a back-story in there, but let's be honest, it's only there to make Temperance Brennan seem half-way human.

For those who don't know the history, don't worry. All you really know in order to enjoy this one will be given to you in the pages of the book itself: namely…

Dr Tempe Brennan is a forensic anthropologist attached to the University of North Carolina in Charlotte and with a connection to the ME's office that may or may not be official - certainly vague enough to allow her to get away with breaking just about every rule in the book without getting fired. Basically, her speciality is picking up the cases that your average ME can't i.e. those where there's very little physical evidence to go on.

A long time ago her husband betrayed her.

Not quite so long ago, so did a one-time lover. Actually, no, Detective Ryan didn't actually betray her – he just walked out. Then, a long time later, he walked back in again. Sometime not long before the start of this particular book he asked her to marry him.

She hasn't said yes, she hasn't said no.

She gets away with this because she lives and works in Charlotte. He's way up there on the other end of a phone in Quebec.

Daughter Katy – who only gets a walk-on part is serving in Afghanistan.

Sister Harry, ditto, is somewhere closer to home but we don't really need to know about her.

Mom is Daisy.

Or more precisely: Katherine Daesse Lee Brennan. She is, to use Tempe's analysis as stable as a skink on a skittle. Throughout her life she has suffered from depression, or any one of the schizoid disorders, or bipolarism… or maybe she was always just plain eccentric. Certainly she seems to be manic and depressed by turns. Any number of medics and medical regimes have failed to calm her, not least because she clearly doesn't want to be calmed. Her impact on her children has been less than positive but they're doing their best. Right now she's living in a high-class retirement home, with her dedicated Goose camped out in a long term B'n'B down the road, and Tempe visiting when the guilt gets too much for her not to.

None of which would matter, except Daisy is also an insomniac who (age not withstanding) is a web-investigative-wonder. And this particular case can really use someone like that.

Birdie is Tempe's cat. You kind of have to feel sorry for Birdie. Advice to Tempe: get a cat-flap, and know that you can actually leave cat food down all day!


Our heroine is about to fly north to meet with the (possible) love of her life when she gets a good reason not to. Hazel Strike folks call me Lucky turns up, clutching a voice-activated flash-drive. Three voices. Two male, one female. It sounds like a young female being tortured.

To Hazel (Lucky), it sounds like proof that she's on to something on one of her longstanding quests. Lucky is a web-sleuth, one of a growing band of amateur detectives who trawl through all the information that the www can provide trying to solve the cold cases the cops have left behind.

In this case: the person of interest is Cora Teague. Eighteen-year-old white female. Disappeared up in Avery County three and a half years back.

Not much for Tempe to go on, but there's something about the voice recording that catches her… and something about the fact that Lucky is convinced that some of the bones of the missing Cora are right there in her lab.

Obviously it's not going to be that simple, and obviously, given the remit of the genre, one or two more people are likely to die while Tempe and Lucky and a few other cohorts try to work out what exactly is going (or has gone) on. But there are connections… bones, cases, possibilities…

When Tempe starts digging, there are also gaps in what should, maybe, have been done. Policing and politics hit up against each other the way they do in the States, the way (if we're not careful) they will increasingly do in the UK.

So how good is it?

Honestly, it really depends on what you're looking for.

I can't endorse the publicity blurb of new heart-stopping thriller. I personally struggle to put Reichs in the thriller category. I enjoy her books, and do find myself turning the page and staying up late to finish and all the rest of it… I just don't find myself breathless while doing so, or waking up in the night heart-racingly scared after reading the way I do with the real masters of the thrill.

What keeps me reading with Reichs is the more old-fashioned, and unjustifiably derided, puzzle. I read Reichs for the same reason I watch CSI or Silent Witness and their ilk. It isn't about the thrill of the chase (though I can see why it is for her characters). From the outside, from my reader-perspective, it's about the intellectual challenge of trying to work it out before the detectives do.

Despite her attempts to build back-story and character, the stories are entirely plot-driven, and frankly there's nothing wrong with that. It's what has got her repeatedly to the No. 1 'best-selling author' slot and it's what will keep many of us reading again. It's not grand. It's not deep. It's pure intellectual escapism.

I probably wouldn't read it again. But then I wouldn't do last week's crossword puzzle again either – but that doesn't mean it wasn't a good thing to have spent time on at the time.

The focus is on the 'how' of the solving. Although openly mocking CSI-watchers, our Tempe (as narrator) feeds the fix by explaining her procedures. She plays up the high-tech end where it matters…but to be fair to the author, she balances it with the slice of reality which tells you the limits of the oft-quoted databases, and how they work. She up-plays the human angle in interpreting what comes out of the machines.

Above all, she underscores the whole point of this kind of storybook: solving anything depends on the what-if kind of leaps that only the human brain can make.

There are some reasonably yukky scenes you wouldn't want to be at, and a few crime scene get-to's that I'm not sure I'd have had the physical wherewithal to get to, but on balance, it didn't thrill. It DID intrigue – and having read Reichs before, it matched up.

For those who like their crime like this, we continue to recommend Cornwell as one of the best Book of the Dead by Patricia Cornwell but A.D Garrett’s contribution is also worth keeping an eye on, start with Everyone Lies. You might also enjoy I, Sniper by Stephen Hunter and Body Language by A K Turner.

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