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by Kathy Reichs
Scribner, July 2002
416 pages
ISBN: 0684859734

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It is highly unlikely that any follower of mystery fandom is unaware of Kathy Reichs and her protagonist Dr. Temperance Brennan. Chicago born Reichs is, like Tempe, a forensic anthropologist. By the time Reichs turned her hand to fiction, Patricia Cornwell and her coroner, Kay Scarpetta, were well established with fandom and while Cornwell has no medical degree she had made meddling with dead bodies a very profitable pastime indeed. Kathy Reichs, however, still practises her gruesome medical work in addition to writing her blood encrusted fiction and she exhibits her knowledge of some of the advances in medicine in her books, Dj Dead, Death Du Jour, Deadly Decisions, Fatal Voyage and now Grave Secrets.

Tempe Brennan is discovered, at the beginning of the novel, working on exhuming corpses in Guatemala's over-sunny clime. As the whole world knows, South American countries have seen dreadful massacres of innocent people over the years, in the interests of preserving the hold of bloodthirsty dictators over the populace. Tempe must help to identify the pitiful remains while relatives of the dead look on. Her work is complicated by an attack on coworkers seeking to join her, an attack in which one colleague is murdered and the other gravely wounded. Then she is called upon to help the local police solve the mystery of several missing girls and identify the remains of an adolescent female whose body has been found in a septic tank. Is there a serial killer at large and if so is it the owner of the cat whose hair is found in the jeans of one of the dead girls?

The plot of this story is not too bad. The only real attempt at characterisation is that of Tempe and then I found some aspects less than convincing. Reichs seems to lack the ability to make her recovering alcoholic heroine seem truly to crave a drink. My main difficulty with Reichs' work, however, is with the very thing that should make her work most attractive and valid. She is a forensic anthropologist, as I have said but she never lets the reader forget it! Page upon dragging page is devoted to a listless exposition of facts, thinly disguised as illuminating dialogue. Yes, Dr. Reichs, we understand that you know all these things but really, they could be offered to the reader in far fewer words. Other authors have the knack of presenting the facts in far, far less length yet making the reader understand sufficiently for the advancement of the plot. Much wordy introspection on the part of Brennan also slows the action. As ever, I have difficulties with Reichs' seeming delight in gruesome detail. I do not wish to know about how lovingly flesh is teased from deceased bone. Oh yes, and to cap it off, in this outing Dr. Reichs has included a hook. If anyone has read Janet Evanovich's fifth Stephanie Plum book, they will recognise it. I wonder if Dr Reichs has time for reading mystery for pleasure.

To sum up, for those who would prefer to garner medical knowledge in fictional guise yet with not much more meat on the proffered medical bones so that the effect is more or less the same as reading a medical text, then this is for you. I would qualify that statement, however, by saying there is a very good description of stem cell research within the book, but I shan't spoil the plot by disclosing just when this comes in. If you like Temperance Brennan and care about her adventures, then you won't be disappointed.

Editors Note: This is a review of the Australian edition, which is probably the same as the UK edition, 315 pages, William Heinemann, London, July 1, 2002, $Au45.00

Reviewed by Denise Wels, July 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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