Books: Death du Jour

After listening to Monday Mourning some months ago, I put in an interlibrary request for the first seasons of Bones, which is also about a forensic anthropologist named Temperance Brennan (though at an earlier point in her life than in the novels). I had nearly forgotten about the request when I finally received the notice that the DVD set was on hold for me to pick up.

It’s tough to watch a whole season’s worth of TV episodes in one week (renewal for another week wasn’t allowed), and I only watched the first few. My husband and older son, however, managed to watch them all. After returning them to the library, at my husband’s request I checked out Kathy Reichs’ first book, Déjà Dead, for him to read. He finished it quickly and was eager to read the next one.

So I checked out Death du Jour, and within two days he had finished it (admittedly, he did stay up later than he had intended). Since I enjoy watching Bones (when he got some unexpected money he bought me seasons 1 and 2 so we can watch them at our leisure), he suggested I read it also. I did, and I also ended up staying up too late reading it. (But at least I took three days instead of two to finish it.)

It’s definitely a page-turner. I’ve read reviews comparing Kathy Reichs to Patricia Cornwell, As I read, I decided I was enjoying this book more than the Cornwell books I’ve read in the past couple years. I don’t know if that says more about the quality of Reichs’s writing or that Cornwell’s more recent novels have been disappointing. Looking through reviews at amazon.com, I saw some readers say that Reichs’s writing style is quite amateur compared to Cornwell’s. Maybe I need to read another book of Cornwell’s to see how I think they compare.

The details of the analysis of dead bodies is naturally a significant draw for fans of Kathy Reichs – as with the Bones TV series. If extended descriptions of how evidence is examined and analyzed bore you, you probably won’t like these books. The characters are less of a draw (unlike the TV series, where I find the characters’ interactions at least as interesting as the science).

The plot depends too much on a string of coincidences, but its continuous twists and turns make keep the suspense right up to the end. I would like to say that the villain revealed at the end is beyond belief, but unfortunately there really are some very twisted people in this world. I don’t know if all of Reichs’s villains are as twisted (the one in Monday Mourning was), but I do know that Reichs uses real-world social issues to frame the crimes she writes about (as well as real-life examples of corpses she has analyzed in her real-life role as a forensic anthropologist).

I very much doubt, though, that Reichs the forensic anthropologist ever gets herself into the scrapes she inserts Temperance Brennan into. Just in this novel, Tempe was attacked twice and came close to being killed. (Monday Mourning was the same way, and from reviews I’ve read I would guess all the novels feature mortal danger for Tempe at the climax.) I seem to remember Cornwell doing the same with Kay Scarpetta (though perhaps to a lesser extent?), and I didn’t think it made much sense there either.

The doomsday cult angle in this book was interesting, but it was treated relatively superficially. Despite the scholarly explanations Tempe gets from a professor friend, it still remains hard to see how people get sucked into such groups. Yet they do, and a book that looked at them more from the inside than the outside would be fascinating. Of course, that would require someone having been in and gotten out, but there are such people and some of them must be decent storytellers.

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