>> Saturday, October 27, 2012
Her life is devoted to justice -- for those she never even knew.Déjà Dead starts the well-known series focused on forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan. It's especially well-known, I guess, because the TV series Bones is based on it (from all reports, however, the books and TV series are quite different). Anyway, I read books 4, 5 and 6 some years ago. I liked book 4, but then things started going a bit downhill with the rest, and I got a bit tired of them. I did, however, always have a vague intention to go back to book 1. And then I started listening to audiobooks last month, and when I realised that Barbara Rosenblat was the narrator, I headed straight for my library.
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...
The series starts in Montreal, where Tempe is working at the Coroner's office. It's quite common for her to be asked to have a look at any bones that are found in the area, and most often it's either animal bones or a really old burial site that has been disturbed. The ones she's asked to look at as the story starts, however, are different matter. They're human, they're recent, and from a body that's been dismembered. And though the police don't want to hear it, they remind Tempe of another body that came across her examination table not that long ago, one from an unsolved murder.
As she works to find the evidence to convince the recalcitrant cops that a serial killer might be out there, Tempe has plenty of personal issues to deal with: a long-time friend who's behaving very strangely and might be in danger, a daughter who wants to drop out of school, the constant temptation to have a drink. And as it becomes clear that a serial killer is, indeed, responsible for the murders, it's also increasingly obvious that he's got an interest in Tempe herself.
I had very mixed feelings about Déjà Dead. There were several things about it that I liked and thought were well-done, but just as many that drove me bonkers.
What I liked
- Tempe is an interesting character. She's a professionally succesful woman in her 40s, quite the lone wolf, and a complete workaholic. She's recently divorced, has a 19-year-old daughter she loves, but who's driving her crazy, and is a recovering alcoholic. Mainly, what I liked about her is that she was so very individual, and her character was drawn so strongly by the author.
- There is a tiny smidgen of a romantic thread here, one that I vaguely remember developing in later books. It was nice to have it there, but it was also perfect that it wasn't any more prominent.
- I know the acceptable taste is that one is SO over serial killer plots, but me, I'm really, really not. I do like a good serial killer book, especially the "treasure hunt" element of it, the examination of the evidence to find the unlikely elements that connect and, through a blinding moment of insight, reveal a clue. I definitely got quite a bit of it here, loads of elements coming together, and it was very good.
- The forensics, while gory, were used to good effect in the plot, providing some quite unique clues.
- There was a palpable sense of place (although some elements of how this was achieved didn't work as well, see below). Montreal really comes alive, and the flavour of it is definitely there. This is the second book I've read in a couple of weeks that's set in Quebec, and it was fascinating to see the distinctions made between Anglophone and Francophone. I guess it's one of those things that an outsider doesn't really think about.
- It was an absorbing read. Apart from some sections with a bit too much detail (again, see below), it was whatever the audio equivalent of a page-turner would be. There was a particular evening when I was listening while I did some chores around the house, and when I was done with them, I found myself walking around looking for something else to tidy up, unwilling to stop listening. I ended up sitting in front of the oven, staring at my loaf of bread as it baked, à la one of the contestants in Great British Bake-Off!
What I didn't like
- The biggest thing is that Tempe, although displaying a top-notch brain while in the lab, shows the common sense of a gnat when out of it. If you want to know what TSTL looks like, read this. She just kept constantly going off on her own and placing herself in danger needlessly. Like, they find a map at a suspect's house where he's marked with an "x" the sites where two of the bodies have been recovered. There's a third "x". Does Tempe wait till the police investigate this third "x"? Nope, she goes to this pitch-black, isolated area on her own, late at night, in the middle of a storm, and with no backup torch.
Yes, Reichs gets a really dramatic scene out of this, but she makes her main character look like a complete twit. She does this sort of thing again, and again, and again. At one point Tempe actually asks herself why she's done a particularly stupid thing, trailing a suspect on her own, without requesting assistance from the cops (even though by this point in the book, they're on her side). Her answer: "Because it was personal". My answer (said out loud while on the treadmill, and provoking some worried looks): "Because you're STUPID, Brennan!".
My favourite, though, was the garage door she kept finding open. So, a serial killer is after you and several times, you arrive home to find your garage door didn't latch properly and is beeping. Do you a) think "oh, that's annoying, I'll have to report it to the super", or b) suspect it might have something to do with the evil serial killer who's after you? If you're Tempe Brennan, the answer is a).
- To be fair to Tempe, the cops were on the incompetent side. For instance, with the investigation of the sites marked with an "x" which I mentioned above, I just couldn't believe that they wouldn't have immediately gone off to have a look. That made the investigation frustrating at times.
- Reichs doesn't really know where to stop when it comes to detail. She has a habit of providing tonnes and tonnes of irrelevant detail (like, the exact route, street by street, taken by Tempe to get to a particular address, or the exact detail of the distances between each tooth mark left by a saw on a bone). It's annoying when reading it, but even more annoying when listening to the audio, as there's no chance to skim. Barbara Rosenblat's narration is brilliant, but even she can't make this interesting. She might as well have been reading the phone book.
- On a related note, the gore level is quite high, and the level of detail provided here is also a bit overwhelming. And again, while I could skim a bit while reading, I was forced to listen to every grisly word here. It wasn't a huge problem, as my tolerance for this sort of thing is relatively high, but I think I'd rather have skimmed.
So, very mixed picture here. I think I might actually listen to the second book, though. I didn't consider Brennan to be particularly TSTL in the later books that I read, so clearly Reichs sorted that out at some point...
MY GRADE: A C-.