Oh Kathy Reichs, I so used to love your books and your no nonsense forensic pathologist, Temperance Brennan. Set in the winter in Montreal, Edmonton and Yellowknife, I had high hopes for this pairing nicely with my winter trip to Montreal. I was disappointed.
Bones are Forever begins in Montreal with Brennan being asked to assist when infant bones are discovered in slum housing. Multiple sets of bones are eventually discovered and Tempe and her off-again love interest, Quebec police detective Andrew Ryan, are off trying to locate the presumed killer, the infants’ mother. We know from the beginning that the mother is poor and of limited mental faculties, as well as being native and obese enough for a pregnancy to be unnoticeable. We also quickly learn that she was formerly a prostitute, and disappeared from Edmonton several years ago, which resulted in her name being added to a watch list for missing (presumed murdered) sex workers. A tip leads the investigative team, which now includes Tempe’s former RCMP lover, Ollie, involved because of the Edmonton sex worker list, back to Edmonton and then farther north, to Yellowknife and Canada’s diamond mines. More poverty, murder and surface exploration of Canada’s indigenous issues follow.
I was disappointed with several things in this Brennan installment:
The suspect/victim: Despite all the circumstantial and character facts the police had about the mother-presumed-murderer, they were treating her like a hard-nosed killer who deserved to be hunted down and decisively punished- this was the worst crime they could imagine. I didn’t find this realistic. While the crimes they suspected her of were horrible, they also knew from the beginning that she was woman with limited means, limited options and limited intelligence;
Brennan’s involvement: I suppose this would be true for all the Bones novels, but this one really drove home how unrealistic it would be for a forensic pathologist to be a the front lines investigating with the police. In particular, the team somehow found it necessary to bring Brennan with them to Edmonton and Yellowknife, despite that part of the investigation being about tracking a murderer, not looking at more bones;
Depiction of Edmonton: while I appreciate Brennan is writing a ‘gritty’ detective novel, by focusing only on the impoverished parts of Edmonton and the indigenous sex workers, she is leaning into an unflattering stereotype. When there are so few high profile novels that feature the city, to have one of those few depict it only in this way leads to misconception, and I hold Brennan to a higher standard.
While I did appreciate that Brennan is using more of Canada, and attempting to bring in some of the larger cultural issues (first nations issues, in particular “murdered and missing indigenous women”, which has been big in the headlines the last several years), my disappointments in this one didn’t outweigh these appreciations. I’ll give Reichs one more goodwill read, but I feel myself getting closer to tapping out on the Brennan series.