Review

Deadly Decisions

by Kathy Reichs



I like Tempe Brennan. I really do. I like the mistakes she makes in
her personal life while being so brilliant in her professional
life, so I enjoyed her continuing to do the same in DEADLY
DECISIONS, the third book of Kathy Reichs's series with the
forensic anthropologist at its center. I like the fact that she
gets muddy and dirty and has messy hair, and I don't even mind too
much that Tempe will always tell you about everybody else's hair
before she tells you anything else about them.

Reichs's main character is her next-to-greatest strength in these
books (this one was preceded by DEATH DU JOUR and DEJA DEAD). Her
greatest strength is in recounting the gruesome details of her
protagonist's work, which she knows so well, since that is the
author's work too. I am not offended by the fact that the pieces
she must put together in order to solve her puzzles are pieces of
dead people --- sometimes even recently dead people killed by bomb
blasts, as is the case in the opening pages of this book. I find
all puzzles fascinating whether made of dead flesh or bones or
crosswords or jigsawed cardboard. The fact that Tempe's first two
human jigsaw puzzles were identical (monozygotic --- see, I even
like the big words these books are full of) twins wasn't too much
of a coincidence for me. At least not for starters.

But I can't say the same for the rest of this book. After a
promising beginning, DEADLY DECISIONS quickly starts to fall apart,
and I'd be doing a disservice to Bookreporter's readers if I failed
to come right out and say so. Nevertheless, if you keep on reading
(as I did because I had to), you may be OK --- just as long as you
read for the details only.

There is a lot of information here. In addition to that which comes
to Dr. Reichs naturally through knowing her job, she has proved
that she worked hard and did a lot of extra research to write this
book. You can learn a lot about OMCs (Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs),
both in this country and in Canada, that you probably didn't know
before. You can also learn about the various kinds of hydrocephaly
that strike at different ages, all the ways it can be treated, the
different types of shunts that are used, and the advantages and
disadvantages of each, plus the depressing fact that there is no
cure for hydrocephalus.

Wait, there's more! You can learn the whole history of the NCIC
(National Crime Information Center) in this country, and the CPIC
(same deal in Canada). And in one dazzling display of
out-Cornwelling Patricia, Kathy Reichs reels off the FBI acronyms
of Quantico with a brilliant familiarity that will make your head
spin.

The only trouble is, you learn these things not in the course of
telling the story, not woven into the narrative in any skillful
way; instead she just stops the forward story progression and dumps
the information on the reader in a page or two. All at once. As if
she'd had a Post-it marked "OMC research insert here."

This clumsy technique is not exactly Kathy Reichs's fault. She is
not primarily a writer. She was trained to be a forensic
anthropologist and has the degrees to prove it. Scribner chose her
for the celebrity factor, and are paying her about a million bucks
per book (one has heard) to fill the giant hole left in their
lineup when Patricia Cornwell left for greener pastures. So when
Kathy Reichs does not write well, I fault the publisher for not
giving her good editorial support; she's an intelligent woman with
a lot of writing ability --- she just needs help. She needs it
badly in this book, which is full of such mistakes as the one
previously mentioned.

To mention another glaring problem: There are far too many
coincidences, such as another case that just happens to have a
corpse originally buried in North Carolina end up --- crucial
pieces of it, anyhow --- in Montreal. Now come on. How often are we
to expect these exchanges of bodies or body parts between two such
distant and hardly related places? The last book had strained my
credulity to the breaking point on this particular issue by the
end. This book just plain broke it.

Problems like this are amateurish. They can be easily fixed. All
that is needed is an editor with patience and a publication
schedule with enough flexibility to allow time for the author to
rework the part with the problem.

And while these peripheral problems are being fixed, I wish her
editor would tell Dr. Reichs that just because one of the victims
is an innocent child does not guarantee that the reader will be
hooked into reading over 400 pages, even if any crime against a
child, slender though that thread may be, is enough (apparently)
for Tempe Brennan to leave her usual duties and get permission to
run around with the police and the FBI the way Kay Scarpetta does
just because she's Kay Scarpetta. A novel needs a plot --- that's
the part with the beginning, the middle, and the end, you know ---
in order to keep all the gruesome descriptions hanging
together.

Somehow the plot part seems to have gone missing in DEADLY
DECISIONS. It's a pity, because with some help from her editor, or
her agent, or even at last resort (am I giving away trade secrets
here?) a writer-for-hire, Kathy Reichs could continue to write
books that fulfill the promise I thought I saw in DEJA DEAD.

Deadly Decisions
by Kathy Reichs

  • Publication Date: July 1, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Star
  • ISBN-10: 0671028367
  • ISBN-13: 9780671028367