Death du Jour, by Kathy Reichs

>> Tuesday, February 19, 2013

TITLE: Death du Jour
AUTHOR: Kathy Reichs

PAGES: 480
PUBLISHER: Pocket Star

SETTING: Contemporary Montreal and South Carolina
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: 2nd in the Temperance Brennan series

In the bitter cold of a Montreal winter, Tempe Brennan is digging for a corpse buried more than a century ago. Although Tempe thrives on such enigmas from the past, it's a chain of contemporary deaths and disappearances that has seized her attention -- and she alone is ideally placed to make a chilling connection among the seemingly unrelated events. At the crime scene, at the morgue, and in the lab, Tempe probes a mystery that sweeps from a deadly Quebec fire to startling discoveries in the Carolinas, and culminates in Montreal with a terrifying showdown -- a nerve-shattering test of both her forensic expertise and her skills for survival.

I had some reservations about the first book in this series, but first books will often be iffy, and I remember liking some later entries in the series. That was absolutely the right thing to do; this one was much better.

The book starts out with an almost disjointed feel, sort of an "a few weeks in the life of a forensic anthropologist". We first see our protagonist, Dr. Temperance Brennan, in Montreal, digging up the body of a 19th century nun who's about to be postulated as a candidate for sainthood. The next morning it's off to do a recovery from a truly horrific house fire, and we're with her during the autopsies, which include two mutilated babies. Later an acquaintance asks for help finding a missing girl, there's a dead woman who was mauled by dead, and as soon as she goes down to South Carolina, where she teaches, she stumbles across two bodies in a remote island. And that's just the beginning.

Obviously, the reader knows there has to be something linking all the stuff that's going on, otherwise it wouldn't be a very good mystery. And once we start getting a glimpse of what might be the common thread, it's a good, creepy one. It all relies a wee bit too much on coincidence, but that didn't really bother me all that much. I guess I was ready to suspend disbelief on this, and I was able to go with the flow.

Tempe was a much better character here. She was on the TSTL side in book 1, keeping things to herself for no reason, not making really obvious links and placing herself in dangerous situations when it made no sense for her to do so. I put that down to the book being a debut and the author finding no better way to move the plot in a particular direction. It's not a problem here. There are a few "Come ON, Tempe!" moments, but it was all relatively minor, and Tempe's involvement in the case felt a lot more organic.

In addition to the case, we get quite a bit of personal stuff. Tempe's relationship with her daughter (which is a refreshingly healthy one) and her sister are interesting, and there's also a developing thing between her and one of the detectives who was introduced in the first book. I'm interested in the latter, but there really isn't much chemistry there, I'm afraid, so the romance, when it comes, falls flat on its face. There's this wannabe torrid scene which was just embarrassing to read and truly cringe-worthy, and I'm a romance reader, I'm perfectly happy to read explicit sex scenes. Still, it's a mercifully small element in the book.

Something else that didn't work for me in book 1 was the excessive detail, both on the mundane, day-to-day end (e.g. constantly being given exact driving directions whenever Tempe went anywhere) and on the forensics. There was a bit of that here, but it wasn't overly bothersome. There was also a bit of infodumping on the theme that was the link between all the different threads (being cryptic here!), as Tempe talked to academics about the subject, but it was fascinating stuff, so the fact that it wasn't that well-integrated wasn't too bad.

On the whole, then, a solid mystery that kept my interest, and I reckon I'll be listening to book 3 in a few weeks.

MY GRADE: It's a B.

AUDIOBOOK NOTES: The first one in the series was narrated by the wonderful Barbara Rosenblat, who I suspect made me enjoy it more than I would have if I'd read it on paper. The narrator has changed for this second one, and it's Bonnie Hurren. She's... well, adequate. It's all a bit flat sometimes, and definitely lacking the spark Rosenblat brings.


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