Book review: The Bone Code by Kathy Reichs

Sunday, April 25, 2021 Permalink

The Bone Code by Kathy Reichs is the 20th in the series featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. I’ve been reading the series since just after its commencement. My small paperback copy of her first novel, Deja Dead, complete with yellowed pages has my name and the year 1999 scrawled inside the cover.

Weirdly I didn’t ever really take to the TV series based on the books, Bones, but know it probably helped bring new readers into the fold a decade or so later.

Book review: The Bone Code by Kathy ReichsThe Bone Code
by Kathy Reichs
Series: Temperance Brennan #20
Published by Simon & Schuster AU
on 21/04/2021
Source: Simon & Schuster
Genres: Crime Fiction
ISBN: 9781760858582
Pages: 368

A storm has hit South Carolina, dredging up crimes of the past.

On the way to Isle of Palms, a barrier island off the South Carolina coast, forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan receives a call from the Charleston coroner. During the storm, a medical waste container has washed up on the beach. Inside are two decomposed bodies wrapped in plastic sheeting and bound with electrical wire. Chillingly, Tempe recognizes many details as identical to those of an unsolved case she handled in Quebec fifteen years earlier. With a growing sense of foreboding, she flies to Montreal to gather evidence and convince her boss Pierre LaManch to reopen the cold case. She also seeks the advice—and comfort—of her longtime beau Andrew Ryan.

Meanwhile, a storm of a different type gathers force in South Carolina. The citizens of Charleston are struck by a bacterium that, at its worst, can eat human flesh. Thousands panic and test themselves for a rare genetic mutation that may have rendered them vulnerable.

Shockingly, Tempe eventually discovers that not only are the victims in both grisly murder cases related, but that the murders and the disease outbreak also have a common cause…

I really enjoyed Reichs’s writing here and hadn’t remembered she wrote quite so irreverently and informally. It’s very chatty and there are heaps of recaps for those who’ve missed bits and pieces of the series. All of that made this one of my favourites in a long time.

I’d also forgotten that these are written as if Brennan is explaining things directly to us. In first person, but in an immediate-past tense. If that makes sense. I certainly felt as if care was being taken to make sure I knew what was happening.

It was interesting that Reichs mentions Covid only briefly. I’d initially thought she’d decided to ignore it and create a virtual universe in which it didn’t exist but there’s the reference to a capno outbreak (Capnocytophaga caught from cats and dogs) and Reichs (well, Brennan) talks about people being gun-shy after Covid so panicking about the idea of another virus.

The cases in Charleston and cold cases in Canada (from Brennan’s past) are linked by the manner of death and advances in DNA testing mean the bodies are linked genetically as well. Reichs goes beyond that here though and delves into genealogy, human genome projects, and the increasingly murky world of genetic testing and gene sequencing. It’s timely of course given, well… Covid and there’s reference to virology and antibodies and the ability of drugs to replicate an infection so the body triggers an immune response.

The science is kinda complicated but the motivation for murder… not so much.

Brennan’s working on a couple of cases as this book opens and is kinda co-opted into another by someone wanting to trace a missing grandparent after finding a mask in their likeness. I was initially worried Reichs would stretch (or does one pull?) a very long bow to link the cases and often talk about how much I hate seemingly disparate plot-lines being connected, but thankfully it doesn’t happen here. Other than via the history of, and leaps made in, science and medicine.

I appreciated that this offers a good balance between Brennan’s personal life (also featuring partner Andrew Ryan of course) and the investigation at hand. The lack of game-playing and office politics – which steered me away from this series for a while – meant this felt more about the case(s), making it an enjoyable read and one of my recent favourites in the series.

The Bone Code by Kathy Reichs was published in Australia by Simon & Schuster and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 


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