Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Guatemalan Civil War Atrocities Addressed in 'Grave Secrets'
From 1990 until 1996, over 200,000 people disappeared or were killed in Guatemala. That thirty-plus years signified the Guatemalan Civil War between the government of Guatemala and insurgents in the country. Although the war was largely political, many innocent citizens were killed throughout the war, especially women and children.
In Kathy Reichs's fifth novel, Grave Secrets, forensic anthropologist Dr. Tempe Brennan has traveled to Guatemala as a worker for the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation and their recovery efforts to find and identify victims of human rights violations during the war. Brennan's efforts yield results both historical and present-day when, after leaving a dig site, she is pulled into a recent murder scene in a hotel septic tank. Guatemalan Inspector Galiano asks for her assistance in solving the case. As they investigate, four young women from Guatemala are discovered missing. Galiano and Tempe rush to find out which of the young women was found in the waste water, and if the body belongs to the daughter of the Canadian ambassador to Guatemala -- one of the missing girls.
Although at first glance, the subject matter sounds interesting -- especially for someone like me, who minored in Women's Studies in college -- Reichs somehow falls flat in this attempt. I did manage to finish it; after all, it is a Tempe Brennan novel, and so it was interesting despite some pitfalls. While Tempe's private life stays out of the spotlight in this novel, Reichs does introduce Galiano as a possible new suitor, one who is in direct conflict with Tempe's long-time on-again-off-again flame Andrew Ryan. Ultimately, Reichs brings attention to the situation in Guatemala, which -- even as an educated, well-read person -- I was largely unaware of until reading this book.
But for me, history is not the only reason to read a book, and so I need a bit more plot and character interaction. Although, as I said, Reichs gives readers a new character in Galiano, his addition didn't make the novel for me. I felt it was too short, or too little action, or something. But, again, it furthers Tempe's story, and so I would have read it -- no matter how good or bad -- to continue my obsession with this series. (And I was right, because I've already finished the next book -- Bare Bones -- and it was fabulous!)