Forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan (Spider Bones, 2010, etc.) commemorates Race Week in her hometown of Charlotte, N.C., by a close encounter with a barrel filled with asphalt and bones.
In the 12 years since two aspiring NASCAR drivers, high-school student Cindi Gamble and her older boyfriend Cale Lovette, vanished the same evening, their trail has gone cold. Cindi’s brother Wayne, a jackman in Sandy Stupak’s pit crew who’s certain that his sister never would willingly have left a home so close to the Charlotte Motor Speedway, thinks the bones found in a nearby landfill are his sister’s. But Tempe doubts it; she doesn’t even think they’re Cale’s. The news of a much more recently missing person, Ted Raines of the Center for Disease Control, brings a pair of FBI agents, who promptly seize the paperwork and the body of Tempe’s John Doe shortly after it’s tested positive for the deadly poison ricin. When will they return the corpse? Never, because (oops) it’s been accidentally cremated. With a dearth of leads in the present, Tempe, together with Det. Skinny Slidell and Cotton Galimore, the Speedway security chief who once led the investigation into the couple’s disappearance, comb through past testimony, trying to figure out exactly who really did see Cindi and Cale last and who’s lying about seeing them. Meanwhile, Tempe’s not-quite-ex-husband Janis Petersons dumps a stinker of a domestic problem on her when he begs her to chat with his twinkie fiancée, the deliciously empty-headed Summer, about the countless wedding details he can’t be bothered with.
Reichs plots conscientiously but uncompellingly, dialing down the suspense except for the cliffhanger, dare-you-to-stop-now chapter endings she just can’t wean herself from.