I used to be the most terrific fan of Kathy Reichs' Temperence Brennan novels, then I found myself getting a bit bored and disillusioned -- they seemed to be more and more formulaic. So it's a few years since I last read one and this, published in 2012, completely passed me by. It might have done so forever but I have a 2-book per month membership of Audible and sometimes can't decide what to buy. I'm really glad I decided to give this a try, as -- though probably not up to the high standards of the earlier books in the series, of which this is number 15 -- I enjoyed it a lot.
For anyone who doesn't know this series, Temperence Brennan is a forensic anthropologist, which means she examines human remains which are too degraded to be analysed by a coroner. She teaches at the University of North Carolina, but she also works in Montreal, for the Laboratoire des Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale. This is, in fact, exactly what Kathy Reichs herself does, and many of the novels are based on cases Reichs has been involved in. But Reichs, as far as we know, does not solve crimes or get into danger in the same way as Tempe does. nor, we also assume, does she have an on-off affair with a gorgeous Quebec detective named Andrew Ryan.
In Bones are Forever, Tempe gets called in to a most distressing case. The remains of a newborn baby are found hidden in a flat belonging to a girl who was working as a prostitute but has now disappeared. Further searches reveal that, tragically, other tiny bodies have been disposed of in the same way. A visit from RCMP Oliver Hasty, an old flame of Tempe's who seems determined to rekindle the fire, confirms that this girl really needs to be found. So it is that Tempe, Ryan and Oli (the two men sparring in an endless and, to Tempe, extremely boring testosterone-fuelled way) set off for the diamond-mining town of Yellowknife, in the North West Territories, where the babies' mother appears to have come from. Soon they are embroiled in all sorts of complicated overlapping issues, including environmental problems, the history of diamond mining, claim-staking, racial and cultural antagonism, and more besides. As always, Tempe's forensic skills are called into action, and described with just enough detail to be fascinating without ever becoming boring.
What lifts Reichs at her best out of the crowd is partly this intricate and accurate detail, but also, of course, it is Tempe herself. Smart and witty, easily irritated, and far too impulsive to keep herself out of danger, she is always prone to get herself and her colleagues into trouble, but of course always escapes at the end, sometimes by then skin of her teeth. Readers who know the previous novels will be longing to know if she's going to get back together with Ryan, with whom she broke up a few books ago -- well, Ryan is in a really foul mood for a good deal of the story, but why, and what happens at the end, you will have to find out for yourself.
So it was a pleasure to get back to Tempe and find her pretty much back on form. I'm a couple of novels behind now, so who knows, I might try the next one and hope for the best.