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Devil Bones

Reviewed: September 3, 2009
By: Kathy Reichs / read by Linda Emond
6 hours on 5 CDs, $34.95

In keeping with with the cross-border career of her central character, forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennon, Kathy Reichs’ first three books had bilingual punning titles. Tempe, as she is known to her friends, spends part of her year working for the police in Montreal and splits the other part between police work and university lecturing in North Carolina.

This is very much like Reichs herself, who divides her time between work for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, State of North Carolina, and the Laboratoire des Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale for the province of Quebec.

Since the inception of her successful television series, Bones, all of her book titles have had the word “bones” in them. Devil Bones is one of her American books, set in and around Charlotte, North Carolina.

I should probably mention that fans of television’s Bones should not expect to find the characters they enjoy so much there in Reichs’ novels. In the tv series, Brennan, nicknamed Bones, works at the Jeffersonian Institute and collaborates with the FBI on cases, assisted by a cast of eccentric scientists. In her spare time she writes mystery novels about a forensic crime solver named Kathy Reichs.

While a genius in her field, and skilled in martial arts, the tv Brennan is socially awkward and may be autistic. Her parents were career criminals at one point and she was raised in foster homes after they disappeared. Her father is in jail for murder and her brother for various crimes. She and her FBI contact, Seely Booth, are in love, but neither of them will admit it to themselves.

Though Reichs (who co-produces and consults for the series) is on record as seeing Bones as a younger version of Tempe, the Brennan of the novels does not share any of the personal background used in the series. She had a regular family, has a sister, an ex-husband, a daughter and a slowly developing relationship with a police officer from Montreal named Andrew Ryan.

Unlike Reichs, Brennan is a recovering alcoholic. This has been mentioned in earlier books, but Devil Bones is the first time I’ve seen it exploited as part of the plot. Tempe falls off the wagon for 24 hours after events in a particularly difficult case result in the death of a trusted colleague. She wakes up with no memory of that day and has to absorb the blame for things she might have said and done then, even though she has no idea what happened.

It all starts with the discovery of a hidden basement shrine apparently devoted to the practice of Santería. In a caldron in the basement there is found the skull of a teenage girl. This seems to tie in with the headless body of a young boy that has been fished out of a river and the even stranger headless body of a young man that was found wrapped in plastic sheeting by a man out walking his dog at another lakeside location.

In the latter case, satanic symbols had been carved into the man’s torso, stimulating speculation by an unscrupulous local politician that a cult is practicing human sacrifice in the Charlotte region. Tempe is working with a local homicide team on all three deaths when one of them, detective Eddie Rinaldi, is killed, leaving behind only his cryptic notebook which Tempe and detective Erskine “Skinny” Slidell have to decode and follow up.

As distractions, Tempe has to deal with a true-crime writer who seems to turn up at all the wrong moments; an old high school flame who wants to rekindle romance; the arrival of Andrew Ryan, her on-again-off-again current boyfriend; her absolute disgust with the unscrupulous crusading councilman; her ex-husband’s vacuous and big breasted new fiancée; and the consequences of her lapse at a local bar on the day that Rinaldi is killed.

As one might expect in a Reichs’ novel, there’s lots of discussion about bones, about technique, about the use of equipment and computer resources. You will learn why bodies found in water are very often headless, but you will also learn to distinguish between several different types of Latin American and New Age cults.

Audiobooks are travel fare for me. With this one I found myself slowing down a bit so that it would end before I got home. Emond’s reading was effective, but perhaps a bit quiet compared to some of the others I have heard reading this series. Since the book runs to about 430 pages, some abridgment was needed to get it down to 6 hours, but nothing major seemed to be missing.

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