Returning from Guatemala (Grave Secrets, 2002) to home turf in North Carolina, globetrotting forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan juggles three cases that will require analyzing a lot more than bare bones.
The first case is the most straightforward and heart-rending: the search for Tamela Banks, daughter of a retired colleague at UNC–Charlotte, who left behind a woodstove stoked with the bones of her newborn infant. Eager to escape the depression such discoveries bring on, Tempe accompanies her daughter Katy to a barbecue that’s interrupted by a bizarre second discovery—the decapitated remains of six bears neatly buried in a pair of plastic bags—and news of a third that provokes even fewer tears: a mountainside plane crash whose two corpses have to share attention with some neatly packaged cocaine found in the woods nearby, some mysterious black powder on the underside of their ruined Cessna, and the occasional feather from an exotic bird. Though all three investigations, which a closing note broadly suggests are based on real-life cases, have their moments, hard-working Reichs overreaches herself when she insists on linking them all, together with the disappearance five years ago of a pair of Federal Wildlife Service officers. The results are fascinating, grueling, and ultimately exhausting.
Solid, overplotted work from an author so determined to emerge from Patricia Cornwell’s long shadow that she’s willing to try every trick in the coroner’s book.