Monday, February 15, 2010

Keep the Lights On While Reading 'Deja Dead'

We went on a vacation this past weekend to the Smoky Mountains. Among the books I took with me was Kathy Reichs' first novel Deja Dead. Although Reichs has been a bestselling author for more than ten years and has also successfully produced the hit television show Bones (which is loosely based on her books), for some reason I had never read anything by her until now.

Deja Dead, Reichs' first novel and the first book in her Temperance Brennan series, was not one I could put down. It also wasn't a good choice for a secluded mountain cabin! We heard several noises on our last night there; we searched the cabin high and low from the closets to under each bed and, of course, found nothing. We finally decided we had heard squirrels or some other animals on the roof or in the attic, but my being frightened was hard to dissipate -- primarily because I had been reading this novel!

I'm pretty excited to have discovered a new series with eleven more books still waiting to be read. I overheard an elderly lady complaining to another library patron last week that it was so hard for her to find new books to read; she said that she'd read every book by every author she loved, and she hated waiting for their next book to come out. I feel her pain; I hate that, too! Thank goodness I've found Kathy Reichs.

The series follows forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan -- Tempe for short -- as she works in Montreal, Quebec. She is on staff at the the Laboratoire des Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale, which is a fancy (French) way of saying she works for the province coroner's office. There she provides expert examinations on bones found. Sometimes she discovers that she has only found a dog or other animal; often she discovers skeletons from old burial sites. But then there are the more interesting cases -- the ones that are more recent and that involve murder.

In Deja Dead, Reichs introduces readers not only to Tempe, but also to the city of Montreal. As someone who is totally ignorant of most things Canadian, I found her descriptions of the city, its holidays and celebrations, its culture, its language, its geography, and its people fascinating. Tempe is a North Carolina native, so Reichs also includes just enough southern references to make me happy, as well. When the series opens, Tempe is alone in Canada. Her marriage has recently dissolved, and her only daughter is still living and attending college in North Carolina. Tempe has a small circle of acquaintances in Montreal: her co-workers at the coroner's office, the policemen they often team with, and her best friend Gabby who she's known since graduate school. And, of course, her cat Birdie.

Tempe is about to leave the city for a long weekend away when she gets a call that a set of bones have been found. When she sees the bones piled into a garbage bag and buried in a wooded area, she knows she's in for a long night. Other victims with similarities begin to surface, both from old and new cases. Tempe is convinced that a serial killer is on the loose, but she is unable to convince the detectives working the case. Tempe does some investigating of her own and also calls in some favors from experts she knows around the world, both in private and university labs and at Quantico's FBI behavioral analysis unit. As she works to find the killer (or killers), the stakes become higher as she discovers that both her friend Gabby and her daughter Katy may be in danger, as well.

Reichs has done an excellent job in this first novel. Deja Dead was a definite page-turner. There were enough plot twists to keep it interesting, but it remained reality-based throughout and was very believable. Reichs includes much scientific detail (perhaps a bit too much in some places), but her science is correct to a fault. And as well it should be -- Reichs herself is a forensic anthropologist who has worked both in North Carolina and in Montreal doing the very job Tempe does in the book. Although I hate to compare her (Reichs is fantastic in her own right), she is similar to Patricia Cornwell in that she writes about what she knows -- and both authors do so very well.

Deja Dead will scare you (You may have to sleep with a bedside lamp on for a few nights!), but the book is worth a few nightmares. I'll be reviewing the rest of the series as quickly as I can get my hands on them!

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