Monday Mourning

Feb 14, 2005

The seventh installment in the "Temperance Brennan" mystery series is anything but trite.

Dr. Kathy Reichs is a professor of anthropology at UNC-Charlotte, with a PhD from Northwestern University.

Dr. Reichs is also, more importantly, both a forensic anthropologist for the state of North Carolina and the Canadian equivalent in Montreal for the Province of Quebec.

As part of Dr. Reichs? work, she examines bones and other remains and offers expert testimony in court.

Kathy Reichs has, since 1997, been writing murder mysteries, thrillers, using her extensive knowledge of criminal forensics. She began with Deja Dead (1997), set in Montreal, then Death du Jour (1999), set in Montreal and Charlotte, and followed by Deadly Decisions (2000).

In 2001, Fatal Voyage concerned a plane crash in North Carolina with a couple of hundred victims, but the plane was carrying a prisoner being extradited to Canada.
Feeling a need, perhaps, to move the action to places other than Montreal and Charlotte, Reichs set Grave Secrets (2002) in an archaeological excavation in Guatemala, but then with Bare Bones (2003) returned the action to Charlotte.

In all these seven novels, the protagonist is the same woman, Temperance Brennan, often compared to Patricia Cornwell?s Kay Scarpetta and Sara Paretsky?s detective heroine V. I. Warshawski, a private investigator in Reichs? home town of Chicago.

Warshawski is a little more physically capable than Brennan, but neither should take on the bad guys alone in hand-to-hand combat.

They should wait for back-up, but they don?t.

But Temperance Brennan is mostly modeled after Reichs herself?same credentials, same college degrees, same jobs.

Since I don?t know Kathy Reichs, I can?t say if she is the mother of a daughter, Kate, who is now a senior at the University of Virginia, or if she is recently divorced after a 20-year marriage, or if she is a recovering alcoholic, but Dr. Temperance Brennan is all those things.

Monday Mourning is set in Montreal in December.

Tempe, as she is called, is there to testify in a murder case when she is asked to examine some bones discovered in the dirt floor of an abandoned pizza parlor. It is quickly determined that the bones are from three females, but more must be learned.

Did these three die of natural causes, or was there foul play? Are the bones a few years old, or have they rested there since the 19th century? If the bones are recent, other women may be in danger, and there is added urgency to finding the killer.

All of Reichs? books should be enjoyed by watchers of CSI because forensic anthropology is a slice of the general practice of crime scene investigation: the bones.

Reichs walks the reader through the procedures: carbon dating will reveal the time of death and interment, close laboratory examination will usually reveal the cause of death, and then, in what was news to me, it is possible to tell where the victims were from by measuring the fluoride in their teeth.

All this is fascinating enough, but the books would not work if we didn?t connect with Temperance.

She is blindingly intelligent, a real Sherlock, and also a caring mother and a good friend, but with plenty of complexity?witness her alcoholism.

She is also nearly obsessed with the issue of female victimization, and her thoughts run to this issue all too often.

Temperance is emotional as well as rational and scientific. She has commenced a love affair with Lieutenant Andrew Ryan, her first since her divorce, and she fears that the handsome detective, who resembles Pierce Brosnan, is cheating on her.

A distraught old friend, going through a divorce herself, comes to visit from North Carolina, and they comfort one another.

Reichs? heroine is all woman and all scientist, but finally a smart, capable human being. Not just for women readers, this book will spend time on both bedside tables.