Friday, April 16, 2010

'Fatal Voyage' Makes Sleep Difficult and Nightmares Almost Certain

Kathy Reichs is keeping me up nights. Initially, that was because I couldn't bear to put down her fourth novel, Fatal Voyage. Now it's the subject matter of the book (well, that or the medicine I've been taking for a cold that I just can't seem to shake). Either way, I'm up late tossing and turning and thinking about the novel I just finished. And haunting is an accurate word for this particular book.

Riechs is well-known as the creator of the Fox television series Bones. The show is loosely based on both her life and the life of her fictional counterpart, Tempe Brennan. While the majority of the first three books details Brennan's work in Montreal, in Fatal Voyage she returns to her full-time hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. I have enjoyed Reichs' foray into Canadian territory (and one she knows well, as she holds the exact position there that she gives Tempe in her books), but the south is my old friend, well-known and never tiresome.

As the novel opens, a commercial plane has crashed in the North Carolina woods on its way from Atlanta to the northeast. Tempe is called in as part of the DMORT, or Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team. Again, this is subject matter Reichs is well-versed in, as she also serves as a DMORT responder in the United States. As Tempe aids with the investigation, attacks begin on her character and on her ethics. She rushes, with the help of Canadian detective Andrew Ryan, to clear her name. Which means, of course, that additional mysteries must be solved. During the crash investigation, Tempe happened upon what appeared to be an abandoned lodge in the woods, and at the same time found a piece of evidence which doesn't quite match up to the time frame and details of the crash. She works to fit these parts into the larger puzzle as a media frenzy opens up around her.

For some reason, Fatal Voyage is a little-circulated part of the Tempe Brannon series. My search offered only used copies, so it may not currently be in print. It is also one of only two of her books not available at my local library. As popular as Bones continues to be, I find this surprising. I found it to be thus far the most enjoyable of her books to date (or as far as I've gotten in the series, anyway). It does deal with some grisly subject matter, as I mentioned when I listed it as a possible reason for my inability to sleep. It was also released in 2001, just as our nation was suffering the shock of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Reichs addresses that in an added note at the end of my paperback copy of the book. She was one of the first on the scene to help identify victims of that attack, and she states that it was difficult to think back about this novel's discussion of mass death in light of that much more terrible and real tragedy. Perhaps she's never had the heart to have it marketed as her other books have been. In my opinion, the book describes the difficulties those working the scene of a tragedy face, and that is a valid and reasonable point of view to portray.

The only negative I saw in the book was Reichs' continued overuse of coincidental events. I suppose fiction writers must exercise some sort of license to stretch a bit beyond what we would consider reasonable, but Reichs does so in each of her books with little sign of letting up. Previous so-called coincidences have linked Tempe's home cities in Montreal and North Carolina, and even tied cases being investigated together. In this book Reichs conveniently places Andrew Ryan's partner as a passenger on the downed plane. Thus, Ryan has reason to travel to North Carolina and into Tempe's southern setting. I would venture to say that authorities in one specific city in Canada have little reason to visit a particular state in our country (especially as a result of investigations being tied together) on a yearly basis. However, if you can overlook a bit of over-the-top plot twists, Reichs can sure spin a good tale. I'm also reveling in the fact that she's fairly prolific -- with four down, I still have eight books to go and a new one being published this summer!

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