The Bone Code by Kathy Reichs

Reviewed by Rod McLary

Kathy Reichs has now written twenty novels featuring Temperance Brennan – more informally called Tempe.  In common with her creator, Tempe is a forensic anthropologist and a good part of the novels centres on scientific matters.  Tempe works with the Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciaires et de Médicine Légale in Montreal or, for brevity’s sake, the LSJML.  Andrew Ryan – Tempe’s live-in lover – is a lieutenant-détective with the Équipe des Crimes contre la Personne, Sûreté du Québec – or put more simply, the police.

In The Bone Code, Tempe is called to assist in identifying the bodies of a young woman and a young girl discovered in a sealed container washed up on shore by a hurricane.  When she first sights the bodies, she thinks: ‘From nowhere, a flashback image.  A woman.  A child.  A plastic container washed from the sea’ [27].  Tempe is determined to identify the two bodies and also the two bodies discovered some fifteen years previously under similar circumstances – hence the flashback.

As Tempe investigates the deaths – and along the way some unrelated matters – the reader is taken on a journey through the intricacies of the development of vaccines, genome sequencing, DNA testing, big pharma and a rather frightening disease called capnocytophaga.  It seems that ‘capno’, as it is referred to by those in the know, is a disease of cats and dogs which can be transmitted to humans if they are immuno-compromised.  The disease in humans can cause serious infections and sometimes death.  The author cleverly links these disparate concepts together as Tempe -with the assistance of Ryan – advances her investigation.  At the conclusion of the novel, the general reader will find her/himself much more familiar with these terms than ever before.  It is to the author’s credit that complex and almost impenetrable scientific processes are rendered in simple language which will be comprehensible to most readers.  Further, the narrative and the tension of the chase are not in the least compromised by the scientific explanations.

But The Bone Code is not all about the deaths and the hunt for their perpetrators.  There is also the sub-plot of the relationship between Ryan and Tempe.  Readers of more than one of the Temperance Brennan novels would be aware that the relationship has not always been close.  However, it seems that a rapprochement has been reached and they now share accommodation – or at least, for some of the time.  Tempe and Ryan have a fine line in sexual innuendo which slips into their conversations and offers a frisson of sexual tension for the reader keen for a brief distraction from the investigation.  In this exchange, Ryan has provided Tempe with some critical information to assist her:

Really, Ryan, I owe you.

When might you deliver?  Voice husky and not at all subtle.

I’m not due at the lab for a couple of weeks.

Not sure I can wait.  [63]

In addition, some of the exchanges between Tempe and other characters in the novel – such as with Tonia Vislosky an African-American police officer – are quite humorous as in the following brief conversation:

Fun fact, [Tempe] said.  I don’t know a single black person named Vislosky.

You know a single white person named Vislosky?

Fine. No more small talk.  Suited me.  [207]

Some readers may be intrigued by the frequent use of the French word tabarnac.  The Urban Dictionary defines it as ‘an extremely satisfying swear word that lets the energy flow’; readers may wish to discover for themselves what the English equivalent is.

Kathy Reichs writes with an easy style which readily engages the reader from the opening sentence.  She is a master at combining the thrill of an investigation into somewhat gruesome deaths with scientific detail which adds a further dimension to the story.  The author has said that she strives to ensure that the science is both accurate and comprehensible to the reader.  She succeeds admirably in both.

The key protagonist Temperance Brennan is engaging and witty and she is well supported by Andrew Ryan – ‘rock-solid fit and five-star good-looking’ [77] – and their pet cat Birdie.  The Temperance Brennan novels are a pleasure to read and this one is no exception.

Well recommended for anyone who likes their crime stories told with intelligence and wit.

The Bone Code


by Kathy Reichs

Simon & Schuster

ISBN 978 17608 5858 2

$32.99; 353pp

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