Tuesday 19 January 2016

Book review : Devil Bones - Kathy Reichs

I'm an avid reader and always used to buy endless paperbacks but, since having my blog, I tend to read mainly review copies. This Christmas, I stocked up on cheap paperbacks though, to get back to my first love, crime fiction, which seems to be a bit thin on the ground when it comes to review copies lately. The Works have 3 for £5 offers so I scanned the shelves and picked out a few authors that I've heard a lot about without having read them myself - Kathy Reichs was one of them.

Devil Bones features forensic anthropologist Temperance (Tempe) Brennan, a feisty but vulnerable woman who works hand in hand with the police, both in Quebec and Charlotte, North Carolina. As Kathy Reichs is also a forensic anthropologist (as well as a best-selling novelist), I couldn't help but wonder if Temperance is loosely based on her - probably not though !

Temperance's latest case involves a sinister set-up discovered in a cellar by a plumber - two cauldrons filled with earth and a selection of human remains. Tempe determines that the skull belongs to a young black woman but, as she starts to whittle down the list of unknowns, another body is discovered, this time headless and carved with satanic symbols. Are the two cases linked? Are they tied to witchcraft, devil worship or voodoo? 

For the local vigilante, they all amount to the same thing and he stirs up the locals until emotions run high. As the victim count continues to rise, so does the list of suspects and Temperance must untangle the cryptic notes left by one of her colleagues.

Despite the sordid killings and crime scenes, the descriptions are passionless and clinical, seen through the eyes of a curious scientist rather than a horrified eye witness or cop. This means that the pace of the novel is slower than much crime fiction, as we see the behind-the-scenes work that leads to the breakthroughs, but it does pick up towards the end. I would have liked more details about Temperance's private life as her on/off ex, potential new beau and daughter all seem to have bit parts and are totally underdeveloped. The narrator's frequent asides at the end of chapters ("But things were about to get a lot worse", for example) and the author's rather sanctimonious moral comment at the end of the novel about Americans being scared of terrorists, anthrax in the mail and airliners crashing into buildings annoyed me because they seemed unnecessary and out of place, distancing the reader from the action by reminding us that it is just a story being viewed through a narrator.

This is the 11th Temperance Brennan book but it can be enjoyed as a standalone novel. It's not bad but having heard so many good things about Kathy Reichs, I was expecting something with a bit more impact and wow-factor.

star rating : 3.5/5

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Arrow; 1st Arrow Book Edition edition (23 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099492377
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099492375
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.4 x 19.8 cm

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