Thursday, March 08, 2007


Kathy Reichs during a lecture


By Mahros Abaño

There was a phase in my reading life that I would read a particular author and get all excited, and quicker than you can say “Anne Rice,” I am out the door and hoarding all the books that that author wrote. Then I will be enormously pissed that the rest of his or her stuff stank like three-day-old eggs (you hear me, John Grisham?).

Nevertheless, I never soured at reading genre fiction although this time in a less-obsessive manner. My taste in genre fiction as of late has been leaning towards the macabre and gore category, so it was a blast for me that I have discovered Kathy Reichs. And my obsessive hoarding has begun its vicious cycle once more.

I discovered Ms Reichs while watching the television series, Bones. For all those not familiar with this show, this is a procedural drama in the likes of CSI and Crossing Jordan. I might be hearing a collective groan of disgust, “No, not another show about corpses,” but this is a really good show. Its protagonist is the forensic anthropologist, Temperance Brennan (played by Emily Deschanel), and she helps the FBI (with Special Agent Seeley Booth, played by the hunka hunka burning love, David Boreanaz of Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) identify the bones of the mutilated, burned or long-buried victims who are in need of justice.

The show was based on Kathy Reichs’ main character in her books, Temperance Brennan. Tempe is based on Ms Reichs, as she is also a forensic anthropologist in North Carolina and Canada. She already wrote nine books and I’ve already got my filthy hands on five of them. Ironically, her books are not very famous here, judging that the only book of hers that I have bought at Powerbooks was her third one, Deadly Decisions, and the rest I have scoured from the shelves of local Booksale shops. She was usually compared to Patricia Cornwell who has Dr. Kay Scarpetta, a forensic pathologist, as her heroine but since I am reviewing Kathy Reichs, I’ll stick to her bones (pun intended).

Like all genre fiction especially the ones with a recurring protagonist, the plot is basically the same with each of the five books. Her first novel, Deja Dead, is set in Quebec, Canada and tackles a series of grisly murders of women that seemed to not be connected; one of the victims’ skeletons was found in the grounds of an abandoned of a monastery. It turns out there is a serial killer on the loose and it came to the point that Temperance became its next target. She eventually killed him, of course, when he broke into her apartment and she stuck a knife in his eye during the struggle.

One of my least favorite, Fatal Voyage, was about an airline disaster. This is her fourth book and it was set in North Carolina. As she helps identify the remains of the crash victims, she stumbles upon a secret organization of modern-day cannibals who mutilate old people. Like any fiction worth its salt, this secret organization’s members are from very high places so the heroine not only encounters a lot of corpses in the way but also a lot of red tape that almost killed her reputation. This book, as Reichs’ mentioned in her foreword, was inspired by the work she did with the 9/11 attacks. The plane crash was what she meant of course, not the cannibalism, which metaphorically could be seen as that if you watch the news.

Reichs set her next book, Grave Secrets, in Guatemala where Tempe Brennan was commissioned to work for the Historical Society to identify the victims of mass graves, who were killed during a series of rebel cleansing by the Guatemalan government. Of course, there was again an attack of a serial killer who put her victims in septic tanks and she was asked to help solve it.

What is fascinating by Reichs’ writing is that her heroine is not perfect. Sure, she may be smart and gutsy but she is also a recovering alcoholic, a divorcee, a single mom and has a nasty crush on her partner, Agent Andrew Ryan. I am not familiar with how much Kathy Reichs is in Temperance Brennan other than the career profile but it is refreshing to see a character who doesn’t wear Chanel pumps and getting the bad guys.

Another thing that I like about the series is that I don’t have to be a forensic pathologist to get the jargon. Maybe it also is an advantage for this writer that she knows what she’s talking about and can explain it to her readers without making them fall asleep. Stuff like forensic entomology or cranial reconstruction in writing can be really boring but Reichs was able to make it interesting and relevant to her novels. Her character’s continuous pop culture references also help the readers identify with her as being human not just information-spewing machine.

Its not that the novels doesn’t have its faults, it has. Inasmuch as I am enamored with the heroine, there are a lot of times I find her annoying. She gets herself in situations that usually get her into trouble. Reichs makes no bones (pun again intended) in making her heroine transition from a lab habitué to an action hero after a few pages. And sometimes the change of pace is not as fluid as it should. There are a few “how did she do that?” moments and at one point I just wanted to move along.

If the heroine was well-written, sadly, the others were not. Some of them are so stereotypical I have to roll my eyes when they were introduced. Then again, this is a suspense novel, not a Pulitzer Prize winner anyway.

All things aside, I cannot say enough that reading these novels is an enjoyable experience. A nice balance of geekiness and action. A love story that is not sappy. I can’t wait to read my next Kathy Reichs’ book.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is Kathy Reich really that morbid? She's so fond of corpses and dead people! Hihihi! But truly, your book review gave interesting insights about this author and her creations. Keep it up!