Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs

3 Mins read

Maybe it’s a sweeping generalisation, but women in crime novels tend to fall into two camps… They are cast as the victim, who may or not fight back and, more often than not, end up on the mortuary slab. Or, as the driven career girl going all out to make her name in the police force, as a private eye, or in some other high-powered profession. Thank heavens for the likes of Dr Temperance ‘Tempe’ Brennan, who deftly manages to avoid the most common clichés.

This book marks the 18th novel to feature everyone’s favourite fictional forensic anthropologist, who also features in the popular TV series, Bones. That’s one novel a year since 1997, and it’s amazing how Kathy Reichs manages to keep up the momentum after all this time – much of it spent also working for the State of North Carolina as a forensic anthropologist and lecturing in the subject at universities. New Tempe Brennan books are eagerly anticipated by Reichs’ ever-expanding fan club, and the faithful will not be disappointed with Speaking in Bones.

If you’re coming to the series cold, however, it is a different matter. I know that Tempe has a huge and complicated back story and it really can’t be trotted out every time a new book is released, but I feel Reichs has erred too far on the side of caution this time – meaning that newcomers may feel a little left out. Probably best to start at the very beginning and work your way through the series.

Speaking in Bones opens with Tempe in her North Carolina office, tying up all the loose ends before jetting to Montreal and Ryan, her on-off love interest. She’s stopped in her preparations by the arrival of the brilliantly named Hazel ‘Lucky’ Strike, a self-confessed online sleuth interested in the case of a young woman who disappeared three-and-a-half yeas ago.

Websleuths use the internet to dig deep into cold cases before sharing their findings on forums – and this time Lucky believes she has come up trumps. She claims to have a name for the former owner of a bunch of assorted body parts that have lain, unidentified, in Tempe’s morgue for more than a year. Even more disturbingly, she has a tiny, voice-activated recorder containing the chilling sounds of a young woman being tortured, which she supposedly found at the long-abandoned crime scene.

Tempe’s relationship with Mark switch turns to off again and she drops her travel plans and dives into an investigation of her own. But when Lucky herself is found dead, it’s time for our heroine to take a back seat and let others join the dots, right? No chance. This is Temperance Brennan we’re talking about, and when has this woman ever backed off from a challenge? In other words, as the body parts count grows and the plot thickens, our level headed, intelligent and highly-skilled heroine throws caution to the wind and ends up in all sorts of bother. As usual I shake my head when she takes off on her own and blithely puts herself in danger. I suppose she’s not going to change her modus operandi after all this time but it can get a bit predictable.

My own favourite Tempe moments are when she’s in the lab, working on remains and earning her Eureka! moment. In this book, a mummified hand without fingerprints and a concrete-filled bucket prove important… I’ll say no more on that subject but it’s probably one of the strangest sentences I’ve ever typed! We are once again kept on tenterhooks where Brennan and Ryan are concerned. Will these two ever get themselves sorted out? I’m also happy to report that Detective ‘Skinny’ Slidell is here too, and there’s some eye candy with the addition of decidedly dishy Deputy Zeb Ramsey of Avery County Sheriff’s Department. I’d certainly like to meet him again in future books.

For more reviews of Tempe Brennan books click here, and to see our other coverage of forensic crime fiction click here. Speaking in Bones is released 30 July.

William Heinemann

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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