Monday, December 17, 2018

Review of Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs (Arrow, 1997)

Temperance Brennan is a forensic anthropologist for the province of Quebec, based in Montreal. Recently divorced she has arrived from North Carolina and is still getting used to the French/English divisions. When a dismembered female corpse is discovered, it raises alarm bells. She quickly spots similarities with two previous deaths, but the local police are not convinced. Determined to prove that they might be dealing with a serial killer she turns detective. However, her efforts place her and a friend into the killer’s sights. Unnerved by incidents, she tries to convince the police to take her evidence seriously and continues to try and identify the perpetrator before he strikes again.

Deja Dead is the first book in the Temperance Brennan series, Kathy Reich’s hugely successful series following the exploits of a forensic anthropologist cum detective. The tale is a serial killer thriller in which a forensics expert pitches her wits against both a murderer and her police colleagues, who do not take her advice and evidence seriously. Reich’s provides a very detailed account of the work and procedures of forensic anthropology, almost translating a textbook into fiction, but Brennan also moves beyond the lab and on to the streets to prove her points. The story has a lot of forward momentum, the plot is tense and engaging, and the prose is very easy on the eye. The main issue with the tale, however, is that is reliant on a number of plot devices to spin it out, some of which felt thin. In particular, the police act in pretty dumb ways ignoring solid evidence, and Brennan ignores all kinds of warning signals and ploughs on regardless and fails to pass on information on flimsy pretexts. The outcome was the believability got sacrificed to tension and pace, though these were also mollified by strong telegraphing. The result was an entertaining page turner with an interesting lead character that felt overly contrived.

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