Kathy Reichs has been enjoying enormous success the past few years. Her lead character, Temperance Brennan, is the focal point of the popular FOX television series “Bones.” Her last novel, 206 BONES, was another in a long line of bestsellers that found itself placing in the Top 100 thrillers of all time in a recently released poll from NPR.
The challenge between being a fan of the television series and reading the novels is how unlike the characters and situations are from each other (akin to the same challenge Charlaine Harris and Jeff Lindsay are experiencing with the drastic changes cable television has made with their respective Sookie Stackhouse and Dexter Morgan characters). Though there’s no “Booth” in the Temperance Brennan series to act as partner, foil and figure of sexual tension, there’s Canadian Detective Andrew Ryan, who fits that role admirably.
SPIDER BONES begins in the Canadian region of the Adirondack Mountains where a corpse is discovered by a local fisherman. This body of a middle-aged man is found in a compromising position --- wrapped in plastic and garbed partially in female undergarments. It seems like the victim was the subject of an act of auto-erotica gone wrong. The problem begins when it comes time to figure out who he is. The prints identify him as John Lowery, who supposedly was killed 40 years earlier in Vietnam.
This prompts Tempe and Ryan to travel to Lowery’s hometown in North Carolina to plead with his elderly father to allow them to exhume his grave. After much wheedling, they get their permission and the grave is exhumed --- revealing the poorly preserved remains of a person seemingly much smaller than ex-military man John Lowery. Lowery’s father refuses to believe that all these years have gone by with his son’s body being misidentified, and there is no way he is about to buy into the premise that his son has been living in Canada and potentially involved in a sexually deviant lifestyle.
Tempe researches Lowery’s history and finds that everyone referred to him by his childhood nickname of “Spider.” If the bones in Spider’s graves are not his, then whose are they? And who is the dead body found in a lake in Hemingford, Quebec?
The only way to be certain is for Tempe and Ryan to travel to Hawaii and try to get the remains identified at the headquarters of the JPAC --- the U.S. military’s Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command --- which strives to recover Americans who have died in past conflicts. Accompanying them on this jaunt to the Hawaiian Islands are their respective daughters, Katy and Lily. Katy is recovering from news of her boyfriend’s death during a peace-keeping mission in Afghanistan.
While in Hawaii, the story becomes somewhat muddled as the drama surrounding Katy and Lily at times takes center stage and Tempe finds herself pulled into a seemingly unrelated case of body remains that are apparently from a shark attack. Even with these distractions, Reichs never loses sight of the initial mystery surrounding the identity of the body found buried in Lowery’s plot. What is eventually uncovered will definitely surprise most readers as all three locations (Canada, North Carolina and Hawaii) play a role in just what really happened to the man in Vietnam and how things have been kept quiet for over 40 years.
Though not nearly as suspenseful or scary as 206 BONES, SPIDER BONES is once again Kathy Reichs at her forensic height. I commend her for the fact that she does not get overwrought in drama or horrific serial killers and can simply tell an engaging story that will appeal to anyone who is a fan of top-notch forensic file mysteries. When you are in the able hands of Temperance Brennan, anything can and will happen.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on August 24, 2010