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she has had a romance with Canadian Detective Andrew Ryan although, by this tenth book, that relationship has largely been replaced by the professional one they need to maintain as they continue to work cases together.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


  1. Sam, sorry you didn't enjoy this book more. The Tempe Brennan series is one of my favorites. The forensic science has always been intriguing to me. I think you'll find with this series, though, that the focus is never on the crime victims but on Tempe herself, and the crimes - the victims are most often dead. One of my favorites from the series was Cross Bones. The plot was very intriguing for me. And Tempe's relationship with Ryan is always on again off again.

  2. I read a few of the earlier books a while ago. I think they were better than this new one, which I have also read. Tempe, much like Patricia Cornwell's character (whose name escapes me right now), are both starting to wallow in self pity way too much. I am a little tired of their whining.

  3. I haven't read the later books in the series, but I enjoyed the earlier ones. I think it's impressive that Reichs manages to include enough back story that someone starting out with the tenth book in the series can still get a good sense of the characters' backgrounds. Good review.

  4. Jen, it just didn't work for me. The writing was "dry" to the point of being boring in large segments of the book. I did enjoy "the science" more than anything.

    As for focusing on the victims, I think it makes a book a much better experience when I can believe that the characters are real people. I need to invest a little bit of emotion in them or they may as well be cardboard cutouts. And that's what happened here...between confusion as to which was which and the flitting back and forth between them, I couldn't maintain my interest.

    I do intend to give her another tr with an earlier book because I know there has to be a reason that the series got so big...and I'm hoping it's not because of that television show about the author. That would be the worst reason possible.

  5. Factotum, I've heard several people say something similar to that...all women readers, many of them more upset that Tempe and Ryan weren't back together by the end of the book than anything else, I think. :-)

  6. Jon, I was impressed by that facet of her writing, also, because it didn't take me too many pages to get comfortable with the three or four main characters. Secondary characters, especially the crime victims, were another story entirely, though.

  7. I was underwhelmed by Monday Mourning...there was an idiot subplot I saw five miles away. Tempe's much better when she's at work, but I guess she can't stay at work all the time.

  8. I suppose with all the hype and the TV show (never seen it, though)that I may have expected too much from the book, bybee. I read every page of the thing but just never got into the story at all...surprised me.

  9. I've been reading this series from the first book and the same thing has happened in this series that happens in many that gain great popularity, the author seems to be rushing out a new title at set intervals rather than devoting the time needed to develop as good a novel as early ones in the series.
    I highly recommend starting with the first "Deja Dead" and working your way forward.
    I've only seen pieces of the TV show, and was not impressed. It really does no justice to the quality of Kathy Reichs's writing.

  10. I haven't given her another try yet, Kristin, but I appreciate the suggested title. If I can ever catch up on the stack waiting for me (small chance, though that is), I'll be sure to take a look at that one.