When TransSouth Air 228 explodes and crashes 20 minutes into its flight over rural Swain County, North Carolina, forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan is called in to help identify the remains of the 88 passengers and crewmembers. Preliminary investigation suggests the crash may have been caused by a husband with an eye on his wife’s juicy life-insurance policy; or by Sri Lankan terrorists out to make a point; or by mobsters bent on eliminating snitch Pepper Petricelli and Jean Bertrand, the Canadian officer escorting him to prison. When Tempe finds remnants of a foot that predate the plane fallout within sight of the crash, the state’s medical examiner, under orders from the lieutenant governor, suddenly insists she has contaminated the scene and bans her from the site. Undeterred, Tempe works with Sheriff Lucy Crowe and Bertrand’s partner Andrew Ryan—who just might be Tempe’s next lover—to keep finding evidence of more and more suspicious disappearances of locals going back years: disappearances whose center is the cabin headquarters of the sinister H&F Club. Before Tempe’s reputation is restored, her friend Primrose is murdered, a politician commits suicide, bone striations indicate cannibal practices, another anthropologist sheepishly confesses to chicanery, and a last-minute plane boarding leads to tragedy.
Warning: the haunting, stomach-turning opening sequence may convince wavering readers never to fly again. Like Patricia Cornwall, Reichs (Deadly Decisions, July 2000, etc.) is expert at autopsy protocol and the intricacies of the death sciences, but relies for up-tempo relief on improbably melodramatic plot twists.