Déjà Dead by Kathy Reichs: B

From the back cover:
In the year since Temperance Brennan left behind a shaky marriage in North Carolina, work has often preempted her weekend plans to explore Quebec. When a female corpse is discovered meticulously dismembered and stashed in trash bags, Tempe detects an alarming pattern—and she plunges into a harrowing search for a killer. But her investigation is about to place those closest to her—her best friend and her own daughter—in mortal danger…

Note: There are many, many different covers available for this series. I picked the attractive British version.

For those who aren’t aware, this is the first volume in the series of mysteries upon which the TV series Bones is based. But if you’re looking for a story with banter/sexual tension between two attractive leads and a supporting cast of quirky scientists, then you’re going to be disappointed. The only real similarities are that the main character is named Temperance Brennan and that she is a forensic anthropologist.

The story is set in June 1994 in Montreal. Dr. Temperance (Tempe) Brennan is working for the Province of Quebec, examining skeletal remains of various types discovered around the city. When she notices some similarities between dismembered murder victims, she becomes convinced there’s a serial killer at work and must convince the detectives—one highly skeptical (Claudel) and one more receptive (Ryan)—of her theory. There’s a lot of emphasis on forensic technique and quite a bit of detail on Tempe’s findings; though the squeamish might find the latter too abundant, they are at least never relished. Meanwhile, the killer is annoyed by Tempe’s interference and begins leaving grisly presents in her yard and targeting her friends and family.

Déjà Dead is at its best when slathering on the suspense. Probably my favorite scene in the book is a wonderfully spooky one in which Tempe hears a weird noise at night and must investigate its origins. And there are some genuine surprises, too. I didn’t expect that any real harm would come to anyone Tempe cared about, and I liked that the culprit was not easily predicted. The characters are memorable and I really like her kitty, Birdie. My favorite line in the book relates to his grooming process: “Birdie focused on inter-toe spaces.”

At its worst, Déjà Dead puts its heroine into situations where I am supposed to be concerned for her peril but am instead annoyed. Why, oh why, do you go investigate a possible burial site on a dark and stormy night? Why go loiter in the seedy part of town in the wee hours to tail a creepy perv? I guess this is supposed to show how brave and determined she is and that my disapproval shows what a stodgy prig I am. Also, having Claudel’s resistance to the serial killer theory persist for so long in the face of overwhelming evidence doesn’t make much sense. He’s not a stupid man.

Despite my few complaints, I did enjoy Déjà Dead overall. By the end, Tempe is getting along especially well with Ryan and it seems possible that she and the intriguing Claudel might interact more compatibly in the future. Both of these developments are welcome, and compel me to seek out the second installment.

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  1. I completely agree with you about this book. I wanted Brennen to be smarted and Claudel was a real jerk. I only read up to book 4 in this series, and didn’t finish that one. Brennen doesn’t seem to get any smarter. I’ll be interested to see if you get further.

  2. I believe I read through the first two before I wandered off to other things. My completist nature tells me I need to finish it at some point, but I have no other compulsion to do it.

    Maybe it gets better further on? Honestly, Bones is so dissimilar I wonder why they even bothered to say they were based on these books.

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