Kathy Reichs - Cross Bones
This is the latest of the Kathy Reichs books which I have read and it is perhaps not one of the better ones. The book was published in paperback in 2005 so I have had it on my bookshelf for a while before reading it.
My copy of the novel is a standard ‘book club’ edition which had a reduced size format for their books and is 348 pages in length plus a short epilogue from the author based on her own work in forensics. The chapters are fairly short so plenty of places to put the bookmark in to put it down for the next day – if you can put it down that is. I read it over the space of 3 days which, for me, is quite quick.
Tempe Brennan is performing the autopsy of a gunshot victim, an apparent suicide, Temp is not convinced by this and a rather strange photo passed to her by one of those in attendance at the autopsy makes her wonder just what the victim had been involved in.
The mystery behind the skeleton in the photo is an odd one and it could shake most major religions down to their very foundations as well as blow open the ‘suicide’ case.
Not only does Tempe have to find out who killed the victim but also deal with people who want the whole thing to stay burried.
What I thought of it
First a slight warning if you have not read any of Kathy Reichs’ books I would advise you do not start with this one as it is not a typical example of her work although I did still enjoy it.
This reads partly like an amalgamation of a good murder mystery thriller and the da Vinci code which in a way does work but some may regard this as a knock off of the latter. However, it is Reichs’ work as a forensic anthropologist which means that much of the detail about the autopsies and the bone structures etc are correct so no risk of fake forensics here. However, sometimes the descriptions of the dead bodies, for some, may be a bit too gruesome and graphic but for me I hate it when authors sugar coat this kind of thing or simply pass over it as to not to upset the reader so the detail is a plus for me.
Reichs’ writing style is quite an easy one to read whilst not as heavy going as a Ruth Rendell it is not as light as an Agatha Christie. I did find this novel quite easy to get into and at times it was hard to put down. However, it has to be said that this was not really in the same style as her other novels I have read. Here much more time was spent on the forensic details not only of the first body found but also on the 2000 year old bones supposedly from the photo given to Tempe at the start of the novel. Now as a scientist myself (a chemist to be exact) I did find this interesting but someone with no scientific background nor any interest in science may find that this will distract them from the story. The perhaps overly religious overtones at times within the novel may also put some readers off but as I was born and raised a Catholic (cue Monty python’s “every sperm is sacred” song) again this is something that does not really bother me. After being taught RE by nuns the religion bits in this book come as light relief in comparison.
Whilst there is some highly technical language regarding the autopsies and the forensics Reichs does explain them well enough within the novel so I am not left reaching for my dictionary (although again I do have a slight advantage of being a scientist). However, the one thing I don’t like as much is that the book is written in the first person. For me this is fine as an autobiography but I don’t tend to like it as much in a novel – or am I being too fussy? However, at least it doesn’t commit the ultimate writing crime in my book of switching between the first and third person.
The plots and subplots do work well together although I do feel some of it is perhaps a bit far-fetched especially on the identity of the bones part and also how Tempe’s partner, detective Andrew Ryan just seems to have a very strong grasp of forensic anthropology despite having no training in the field. I suppose some of this could be explained by him picking things up over the time Tempe and he have been a couple but it does, at times, just seem a little too convenient. The plots and sub plots do come together well during the story and there are enough twists in the plots to keep the reader guessing as to who has been committing the crimes.
As far as the characters go the question has to be asked if there are too many secondary and tertiary characters in the novel. Some are used quite often and are integral to the storyline others seem to be used to pad scenes out or to act as a disapproving boss to both Tempe and Andrew. There are also one or two important characters who are used at sporadic intervals so the occasional flick back to remind yourself who they are may be needed for some especially if there is a gap between times you read the novel. Perhaps two or three characters could have been amalgamated into one to give them a larger role and a couple could have been left out without taking anything away from the novel as they just provided a bit of background to some of the more important characters.
Whilst this is not a typical Kathy Reichs novel, it was, for me, worth reading as it was well written. It may not be her best work but I did enjoy it I’d give it a 8/10. Hopefully her next one will return to form.