Book Review: Bare Bones, by Kathy Reichs

Bare Bones. Kathy Reichs. Pocket Star Books. Paperback. 2003.

I don’t like writing bad reviews. Anyone who knows me knows I have no particular issue being critical. Writing a bad review means I’ve spent time reading a disappointing book, time I could have spent reading a better book.

Kathy has written a few books which exemplify an annoying trait among a few authors I’m familiar with, authors I no longer read. The few Temperance Brennan books I’ve read suck you in early, maintain a good pace, incorporating details of Reich’s background in forensic science, and then she gives up writing at the end of the novel. Literally.

!!! Spoiler Alert !!!

In every TB book I’ve read, Temperance is rendered unconscious, or held captive, or both, near the end of the novel. There is a gap in time, like 48 hours to a week, and the Temperance is filled-in by other characters how the crime was solved after she has recovered. In Bare Bones, Temperance passes out in the second-to-last chapter. In the last chapter, a week has passed. She and her on-again, off-again boyfriend Andrew Ryan are sitting in lounge chairs at the beach and he is filling her in on all the details she missed while she was recuperating.

In the “Acknowledgements,” Reichs recognizes people representing a wide array of experience and education, Fish and Wildlife law enforcement officers, Fish and Wildlife forensic scientists, dentists knowledgeable about a group of people called “Melungeon,” who populate the remote mountains of eastern Tennessee and western Virginia, plus an assortment of other law enforcement and medical examiners. With all of this help, I expected a more details in my crime novel. After finishing Bare Bones, I’m left feeling like I ordered Applebee’s and was brought Wendy’s. Don’t get me wrong, I like Wendy’s, but when your mind is set on Applebee’s and you get Wendy’s the reality doesn’t match with expectations. I’m often left with these mismatched feelings after reading a Temperance Brennan novel.

I read Lisa Gardner and Patricia Cornwell, too. Gardner has yet to disappoint, in that I didn’t go into her novels expecting anything and was pleasantly surprised. I went into Cornwell’s novel with high hopes due to recommendations from friends, and her writing pretty much matched my expectations. Until “Red Mist.” Kay Scarpetta set a high bar bringing logic and deductive reasoning into each crime. In “Red Mist” all of that gets thrown out the window. The reasonable, thoughtful, rational character I enjoyed in “Port Mortuary” and “Point of Origin” never rose above the emotions which dictated her behavior early in the novel.

In Bare Bones, Temperance is faced with the early gruesome task of determining the nature of bones in a wood-burning stove. Having to set that ID aside to attend a picnic, her dog discovers buried bones on a farm near the picnic area. These bones don’t immediately appear human, but upon further inspection human remains are discovered mixed with bear and bird remains. Now, her forensic work has more than doubled.

While working through the complexities of the bones found in a wood stove, and the new-found human remains from a local farm, a small plane crashes, leaving no survivors. Evidently, people can’t wait to die to have their remains examined by Temperance. The plane crash has all the markings of being part of the local heroin economy.

The bear and bird bones lead Temperance to the black market sales of endangered animals, or parts of endangered animals. The gall of black bears, for instance, is wildly popular in Asian countries. The plumage of some tropical birds is sought after for decorative accents. Of course, some animals are sought after merely to eat, as there are some people who associate the eating of rare animals with affluence and prestige.

I almost get the sense Reich’s bit off too much with all of these seemingly disparate plot elements. All of these details converge in criminality; all the crimes and deaths are connected to some degree. Bit none of the plot elements are explored with much consideration. And the finale is simply a cop-out in my opinion. I’m challenged by these endings. Perhaps I’m spoiled by Gardner, Cornwell, and James Lee Burke in the depth of the exploration of the elements of crimes. I can’t read Patterson any longer because the story lines and plot details are inconsistent, rudimentary, and stretch the lines of reason, really.

Temperance may have benefited from using a map or two, or perhaps using Google Earth. Later in the novel, Temperance opens her laptop and begins taking notes, then organizing them. She makes a few lists, places, people, Bad Guys, Victims, Definite Victims, Possible Victims.

But, Temperance could have used some maps or some mapping applications. After all, Google Earth was introduced in 2001. Brennan, to her credit, does appear to use Yahoo! maps for driving directions, though. Maps could have played a greater role, however, especially since this region appears to be a conduit for the illicit trade in animals, heroin, and who knows what else.

Much of the action takes place in Lancaster County, SC.

A car is pulled from a pond near Crowders Mountain, North Carolina, which is just across the NC/SC border.

The little town of Clover, SC., also features prominently, if only because we are treated to a brief history of Cloverpatch, aka Clover. Family members of a decedent live near Clover.

Bare Bones may be good summer reading, for sitting at the beach or the pool, but don’t invest too many brain cells.

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