by

Cut To The Bone

Cut To The Bone
A Body Farm Novel by Jefferson Bass

The year is 1992, and Dr Bill Brockton is a professor of anthropology at the University of Tennessee. He frequently assists the police in solving murder cases. He has just hit upon the idea of using a vacant patch of ground and corpses to study the details of how the human body decomposes.
However, the cases he’s working with the police are inceasingly starting to remind him of cases that he’s solved in the past. Is someone killing to send him a message? Is his family in danger? Dr. Brockton must use all the knowledge at his disposal to solve this string of grisly murders before it is too late.

Cut To The Bone is a prequel to the other novels in the Body Farm series, based on the real-life Body Farm at UT. Although the timeline was fudged a bit, it was fascinating to take a peek back at the beginnings of forensic science, when things that are standard practice now were experimental and exciting- like an artist’s reconstruction based on a skull, or using blowfly larvae (aka maggots) to determine time of death. The Body Farm novels always do a good job balancing the action of a mystery with the technical forensic details- and keeping it in approachable terms.

Cut To The Bone goes beyond the questions of who did it, and how, to explore the why. This novel refers to the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, and the serpent in paradise, to address the issue of evil in the world. I don’t read many forensic novels where a character consults their pastor (I don’t remember it anywhere in this series either) but I appreciated the depth added by a spiritual and moral perspective.
I also enjoyed the portrayal of Dr Brockton’s relationship with his son and wife. It is sadly rare to read a novel featuring a loving marriage between two people who, even after decades together, share respect, care, and yes, sexual attraction.
Any Body Farm novel is a good read for fans of forensic mysteries. But I think the authors have outdone themselves with Cut To The Bone. The characters, relationships and moral depth make this much more than your average forensic mystery.

image

Other good forensic mystery authors: Kathy Reichs, Jeffery Deaver.

Advertisements
by

Bones of the Lost

Bones of the Lost (Temperance Brennan #16)
Kathy Reichs

Forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan is, as usual, busy with many different cases. She’s examining remains of dog mummies connects to an antiquities smuggling case. She’s trying to identify the body of a teen girl who may have been the vicitim of sex trafficking. And she’s been tapped by the US military to help solve a case involving a soldier who fired on civilians in Afghanistan. Each case requires her unique expertise.
Meanwhile, Tempe’s personal life is (as usual) complicated. Her ex-husband (ex-cop ex-Marine) Pete is in the throes of marrying his new trophy wife. Her long-time lover Ryan (Royal Canadian Mounted Police, aka Mountie, detective) is suddenly incommunicado. And her beloved daughter Katy is far away, stationed in Afghanistan after enlisting at the end of the last book.
Obviously Temperence Brennan solves the cases- all of them- although (no suprise to anyone who has read any other books in this series) most of them tie together in the end. One thing I don’t like about how Reichs writes these novels is that, in the crucial chapters when Tempe puts the pieces together, she is vague about whodunit. You get to the end like, what?! and then generally have to reread the last 6 chapters to understand.

I first met, and loved, Temperance Brennan on the hit TV show Bones. Naturally then I read the books. In my opinion, the first 6-8 books in the series were the best, but I’ve always likes the show better than the books.  I think I might have finally pinpointed why. The heart of the TV show Bones is the relationship between Brennan aka Bones and her FBI agent partner Seely Booth. They are often at odds, sometimes in love, and always hilarious. In the books, Tempe has no Booth- altho you can see in both her lovers, Pete and Ryan, ideas that grew into Booth. Often in the books, she is not “with” either of them, which just isn’t as much fun.
Also on the TV show, there is a solid cast of supporting characters. Parts of the show are often portrayed from their perspective. While the books feature recurring side characters, they are not nearly as fun as the TV cast. The books are always narrated entirely by Brennan, too. She’s brilliant, hardworking and even sometimes funny- but sometimes you wish for another narrative perspective.

I enjoy Reich’s books. I haven’t missed one yet, and I often recommend them to readers looking for a good forensic mystery.  But at the end of the day, I love TV Bones better than novel Tempe. I guess I’m just glad that Reichs could help give us both of them.

image

You might like: the Body Farm novels by Jefferson Bass. the Rizzoli and Isles novels by Tess Gerritsen.

by

Alex

Alex
Pierre Lemaitre

Alex was an excellent detective thriller, with more than one suprising plot twist. In fact, I’m having a hard time writing a review with no spoilers because the plot twists are so major. I’ll do my best, but trust me, the book is better than my review makes it sound.

There are three major crime segments in Alex. Police Commandant Camille Verhoeven is the driving force in investigating all of them. First of all, a young woman named Alex is kidnapped, jammed into a wooden crate so small she cannot stretch or lie down, and suspended from a rope in an abandoned warehouse. When Commandant Camille does manage to find her kidnapper, he dies before telling police anything; leaving Alex with no food or water, at the mercy of the rats.
Next, Commandant Camille is trying to solve a series of murders where victims were killed by having acid poured down their throats. He feels the killings are of a sexual nature, but others are skeptical; and when a woman turns up among the victims, it seems Camille is wrong.
Finally, there is a suicide, which might just be a murder. Commandant Camille finally uncovers the original crime at the root of all these deaths and unravels the twisted thread tying all these horrible crimes together.

The crimes, the murders, the plot twists- those are enough to make this book a page-turner. But Commandant Camille Verhoeven is the real stand-out of the story. A short man with a big ego and a kitten named Doudouche, Camille is neurotic and briliant as we expect our best fictional detectives to be. He is understandably reluctant to take on the Alex case, having lost his own wife and unborn child in a kidnapping gone wrong. Solving the case requires confronting his own inner demons.
If Lemaitre had just stopped at Commandant Camille, this would have been a good enough detective thriller. But he goes on to surround Camille with a cast of characters that are compelling on their own. Louis is Camille’s former partner, reunited with him to solve this crime. The two of them communicate in a way that only long-term coworkers can. Le Guen is Camille’s boss, who forces him to take the Alex case. The author describes them as being like an old married couple- they fight but understand each other perfectly. Armand is another coworker, who initially provides comic relief for desciptions of what a miser he is. But it turns out maybe he has a generous heart. Together, these police officers form a team with depth and color around Commandant Camille.

Alex is being sold as the first book in the Commandant Camille Verhoeven trilogy. I hope they hurry up and translate the others from French,  because I can’t wait to read them. I want another detectice thriller with this kind of fast-paces writing and unexpected twists. I also want to read more about Commandant Camille and his team!

image

You might like: The Bat, Nesbo. The Abomination, Holt. Any of the Deleware/Sturgis novels by Kellerman.

by

The Abomination

The Abomination
Jonathon Holt

The cover of this book caught my eye, so I opened the flap and read a description that included these words: murder, intrigue, conspiracy, Venice, CIA, Catholic Church. That was all it took! And I was not disappointed. This debut novel was great!

Daniele is a reclusive computer genius who created an online virtual Venice, known as Carnivia. He is facing charges for his refusal to turn over Carnivia secrets to the Italian government.
Holly is a military brat turned Army officer stationed for the first time in Italy, where she grew up. Her post as a community liason sounds boring- until a journalist shows up with a request for information relating to the Bosnian conflict. The files keep happening to get moved, or lost, or shredded, driving Holly to her father’s old friends for help.
Kat is an Italian Carabinieri recently promoted to the murder squard. She is assigned to a case involving a dead woman dressed as a Catholic priest. The investigation involves an old (possibly haunted) island and occult symbols. All the while, Kat’s feelings for her older male mentor are getting more complicated.

Holt does an excellent job of establishing each of the charaters and their individual stories, and then gradually weaving them together like a spiderweb reaching its center. He throws in plenty of  interesting elements, like human trafficking, Catholic controversies,  and of course the promised CIA conspiracies.
I felt that Holt also did a good job of writing his two female leads. Male thriller writes don’t typically do that well.

I was not disappointed in The Abomination. But I didn’t realize how good it was until the book was over- then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I kept wanting to go back to the worlds Holt had created- both Venice and the virtual Carnivia. Thank goodness this is just the first book of a trilogy! I hope Holt writes the next ones quickly, because I can’t wait to read them!

image

You might like: Daemon, Daniel Suarez. Street Dreams, Faye Kellerman.

by

After Her

After Her
Joyce Maynard

In her previous book Labor Day, Joyce Maynard did such a good job portraying ordinary people doing ordinary things in a really pretty bizzarre situation, and I was hoping for another book with that kind of pacing and tension. I was not disappointed! 
After Her is the story of two little girls, Farrah and Patty, the daughters of a policeman, during a time that encompasses the hunt for a dangerous serial killer.  The girls go about daily life- school, first crushes, playing basketball, wanting a dog- with murder looming onimously in thr background. Finally the girls fall into an encounter with the killer himself- or do they?
The biggest qualm I had with After Her is that it seemed like there were too many side story lines. To me, it was primarily about the dad and the women he loved; the sisters;  and a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of a serial murderer.  But then there were all the neighbors, and dogs, and basketball, and all this stuff that was far more detailed then it needed to be. When the author stuck to the characters and themes at the center of the story, it was very good; but in the other sections, my interest wandered.
There was, however, one section that I loved unreservedly- just a few pages in which Joyce Maynard has written a reflection in Farrah’s voice about how strange and wonderful it is to be a 13-yeat old girl. I felt like that was just brilliant! That chapter and the next 50 or so pages felt like the heart of the book, and I came back to the book a second time just to read those pages again.

image