Source: Review copy
Publication: 17TH March 2020 from Simon & Schuster
It’s sweltering in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Temperance Brennan, still recovering from neurosurgery following an aneurysm, is battling nightmares, migraines, and what she thinks might be hallucinations when she receives a series of mysterious text messages, each containing a new picture of a corpse that is missing its face and hands. Immediately, she’s anxious to know who the dead man is, and why the images were sent to her.
An identified corpse soon turns up, only partly answering her questions.
To win answers to the others, including the man’s identity, she must go rogue. With help from a number of law enforcement associates including her Montreal beau Andrew Ryan and the always-ready-with-a-smart-quip, ex-homicide investigator Skinny Slidell, and utilizing new cutting-edge forensic methods, Tempe draws closer to the astonishing truth.
But the more she uncovers, the darker and more twisted the picture becomes …
Fans of Kathy Reichs books about this intrepid forensic anthropologist will know that this book has been a while in coming to market. That only makes it all the more welcome, especially when Reichs explains, as she does in the back of this expansive, sweeping crime novel, that she has built in some of her own health issues into the character of Temperance Brennan.
Tempe is back in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she is juggling living between there and Quebec, sharing both places with her partner, Ryan. Her friend and old boss Dr Larabee, North Carolina’s Chief Medical Examiner, has gone and Tempe is mourning his loss. Not only that, the woman appointed to replace him is an old adversary of Tempe’s and does not want her anywhere near the department, far less consulting for it. Margot Heavner enjoys being in the media spotlight and is willing to compromise on her professional medical ethics in order to cast a favourable light on her own prowess, even if that prejudices a future trial. Temperance has called her out on it before and now she’s not welcome.
Tempe is also coming to terms with the aftermath of neurosurgery and the diagnosis that she has a brain aneurysm. As if that were not enough, her mother has cancer. The aneurysm has left her with an ongoing migraine problem, sleep issues and an unsettling sense of not knowing what is real and what is the product of her brain induced anxiety. She thinks she spots a man in a trench coat hanging about outside her house in the middle of the night, but then worries that she may have imagined it.
Consequently, Temperance has a lot on her mind when she receives anonymous texted photographs of a faceless corpse. Knowing she won’t be welcome, Temperance sneaks into the ME’s lab to grab a sample and aided by cold case detective ‘Skinny’ Slidell she immediately finds herself at odds with the preliminary conclusions drawn by Heavnor.
Brennan decides she will pursue this case despite the ME’s objections. She and Slidell begin the laborious process of tracking down the faceless individual. What she uncovers only leads to a lot more questions. Tempe is faced with a jigsaw puzzle that leads to a whole host of conspiracy theories ranging from mind control projects to missing children.
To make matters worse, Tempe discovers that the dead man was carrying her own phone number. No wonder she’s feeling a bit paranoid, and that’s before things start to get worse. To solve this case, Temperance must go into the murky world of the deep web where it’s essential that you know what you are doing.
Kathy Reichs excels at intricate plotting and her books are full of rich, accurate detailed forensics which all adds to the authenticity of the book. So when I tell you that this book is expansive, what I mean is that she has used her imagination to create a sweeping canvas for her plot to play out on and at least half the fun is watching her drawing all her disparate threads together to make a complete and satisfying picture.
There’s poignancy, too, about this book, knowing that Reichs, a very private person, has put more of herself than usual into Temperance and that makes this book feel quite special.
Verdict: With a complex, intense plot full of surprises, this book is sharp and intelligent. I enjoyed it for all that but also for the emotional quotient which resonated long after the book was finished.
Kathy Reichs’s first novel Déjà Dead was a number one bestseller and won the 1997 Ellis Award for Best First Novel. A Conspiracy of Bones is Kathy’s nineteenth entry in her series featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. Kathy was also a producer of the hit Fox TV series, Bones, which is based on her work and her novels.
Dr. Reichs is one of very few forensic anthropologists certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology. She served on the Board of Directors and as Vice President of both the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, and as a member of the National Police Services Advisory Council in Canada. She divides her time between Charlotte, North Carolina, and Montreal, Québec.