By Kathy Reichs
Publisher/Year: Simon & Schuster/2022
Winter has come to North Carolina and, with it, a drop in crime. Freed from a heavy work schedule, Tempe Brennan is content to dote on her daughter Katy, finally returned to civilian life from the army. But when mother and daughter meet at Tempe’s place one night, they find a box on the back porch. Inside: a very fresh human eyeball.
GPS coordinates etched into the eyeball lead to a Benedictine monastery where an equally macabre discovery awaits. Soon after, Tempe examines a mummified corpse in a state park, and her anxiety deepens.
There seems to be no pattern to the subsequent killings uncovered, except that each mimics in some way a homicide that a younger Tempe had been called in to analyze. Who or what is targeting her, and why?
Helping Tempe search for answers is detective Erskine “Skinny” Slidell, retired but still volunteering with the CMPD cold case unit—and still displaying his gallows humor. Also pulled into the mystery: Andrew Ryan, Tempe’s Montreal-based beau, now working as a private detective.
Could this elaborately staged skein of mayhem be the prelude to a twist that is even more shocking? Tempe is at a loss to establish the motive for what is going on…and then her daughter disappears.
At its core, Cold, Cold Bones is a novel of revenge—one in which revisiting the past may prove the only way to unravel the present.
Reviewer: Rachel Nightingale
Full disclosure: I’m a Kathy Reichs fan from way back, so my review won’t be impartial, but given the calibre of her latest book, that shouldn’t be a problem. This is Reich’s twenty-first novel featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan, and for new readers and long-term ones alike it’s a heart stopping ride from beginning to end.
Tempe has seen all kinds of strange and curious deaths over the years, so when an eyeball in a box turns up on her doorstep she takes it in her stride. That is, until Birdie (her cat, still hanging in there and still full of personality) manages to get hold of it, leading her to discover GPS coordinates etched on its surface. This in turn leads her to a lonely privy in the grounds of a monastery, and a severed head in a Target bag. And this is only the beginning of a series of strange and disparate discoveries. As bizarre cases begin to pile up with seemingly nothing in common, Tempe can’t shake the nagging feeling that there’s some connection between them. Her instincts might be correct as later developments seem to be intruding further and further into her carefully ordered world.
For long-term readers there are plenty of pleasing call backs to previous books, as well as appearances by familiar, vividly drawn characters. Aside from Birdie and Andrew Ryan, there are other regulars, including Skinny Slidell, as cantankerous as ever, and the handsome Charlie Hunt. Tempe’s daughter Katy, now grown up and discharged after serving in Afghanistan, is looking for direction in her life and causing Tempe some stress in the process. And a major snow storm is adding to the drama.
Reichs is an expert at pace and suspense, ramping up the tension with questions and chapter endings that drag you forward for ‘just one more’. She strikes the perfect balance between gory details and humour, with Tempe’s dry and witty observations and interactions lightening the mood at all the right moments. The technical details of forensic anthropology are clear and understandable, with enough detail to be interesting without overwhelming the reader.
Whilst avoiding spoilers, I’ll note that the Terry Pratchett epigraph at the start of the book is perfect for what follows. It’s also hilarious (and rather meta) to see the copyright attributed to Temperance Brennan, given that in the tv series Bones, which is based on Reich’s books, the lead character of Temperance Brennan writes crime fiction whose central character is a forensic anthropologist called Kathy Reichs.
Cold, Cold Bones is Reichs at her satisfying best.