Monday, August 04, 2008

Bones to Ashes

Bones to Ashes is the tenth novel in the Temperance Brennan series but it is my first experience with the character and its creator, Kathy Reichs. As usual, when I jump into a series for the first time somewhere after its midpoint I have to wonder if my reading experience would have been different, maybe even a better one, if I had started the series at the beginning. At the least, I would have a better feel for whether or not the series is holding up nicely or is on the decline, something I still wonder about after having finished Bones to Ashes.

For those as uninitiated in the Reichs books as I was, Tempe Brennan is an American forensic anthropologist who splits her working days between North Carolina and Montreal, where she works for the province of Quebec to identify bodies, bones, causes of death, and those responsible for the murders she helps investigate. Along the way she has had a romance with Canadian Detective Andrew Ryan although, by this tenth book, that relationship has largely been replaced by the professional one they need to maintain as they continue to work cases together. Tempe also has an eccentric sister, Harry, whom she loves dearly but prefers to take in small doses (I agree with her).

Not long after receiving a skeleton from New Brunswick, Tempe manages to convince herself that the bones may very well belong to a childhood friend of hers, Evangeline Landry, a young girl who, with no explanation, was suddenly whisked back to Canada and out of Tempe’s life when the two were teenagers. At the same time that she is trying to unlock the skeleton’s secrets, Tempe is working with Ryan and others to identify the killers of several young women who have been abducted over a period of years.

Tempe’s desire to learn what happened to her long lost friend turns her investigation into something personal and, when she and Harry decide to visit Evangeline’s sister, they attract enough attention to place their own lives in danger.

For American readers, the fact that Bones to Ashes is set in Canada is both strength and weakness. On the one hand, Reichs portrays life in a part of Canada that few readers will have been much exposed to beforehand and her Acadian settings, characters and atmosphere are intriguing. On the other, the multitude of dead bodies and missing girls all have unusual French names, making it difficult to keep their individual stories clear from chapter to chapter. This inherent confusion makes it difficult for the reader to get emotionally involved in what has happened to any of these young women and they become almost indistinguishable from one another in the reader’s mind, something not helped by the sparse prose that Reichs often uses.

But Reichs does something that many series writers do not do for their main characters; she takes time to delve into their past histories so that new readers have at least a basic understanding of the characters and how they got to be the people they are. And, of course, the forensic science on display is probably the book’s strong suit since Kathy Reichs is herself a one of the better known forensic anthropologists in the world.

Bones to Ashes is an interesting book, especially for those drawn to the series because of the science that it features, but it is not an especially strong novel, suffering from a poor juggling of its multiple plotlines and its failure to make the crime victims into real and sympathetic characters. I am not sure that I want to read book eleven in the series, but I am curious enough now to go back and read the first one because I suspect it is better than Bone to Ashes.

Rated at: 2.5
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