The bones of the dead give up their secrets to Dr. Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist, in the mystery series by Kathy Reichs, herself a forensic anthropologist. Those who enjoy the Dr. Kay Scarpetta novels by Patricia Cornwall will find themselves on familiar ground. The mystery is the point, but the puzzle is unraveled from the bodies.
Dr. Brennan, known as Tempe to her friends and coworkers, began her career as a forensic anthropologist working for the state of North Carolina; somewhere along the way, she also accepted an assignment with Quebec. Although she divides her time between the jurisdictions, in the two novels I’ve read she’s been based in Quebec, working for the Laboratoire de Médecine Légale. The novels are engrossing, with graphic details about the corpses under Brennan’s knife, about the ravages Nature brings to bodies left in her grasp, and about the human emotions that swirl and swing out of control in any death investigation. No doubt due to the similarities to her own work – Reichs works for both North Carolina and Quebec as well, and is of an age with Brennan – the author, writing in the first person, brings to vivid life the mysteries of the dead and the lives of those who try to solve them.
In Déja Dead, Reichs’ first Tempe novel, Brennan is living and working in Montreal, dealing with her divorce, her daughter’s new college career, and the gnawing hungers of a recovering alcoholic. Into this mix falls a mystery – who dismembered a young woman, carefully slicing through joints, and dumped the body in separate plastic bags? Tempe finds herself locking horns with the lead detective as she begins to connect the case with earlier cases, connections he refuses to see. She fears it is a serial killer, and every new find of old bones confirms her fears – but is slow to convince the detectives. Finally she starts digging into the mystery herself, literally, drawing the attention of the killer not just to her, but to her daughter and best friend as well.