As regular readers of my column know, my love of novels usually centers on science fiction and fantasy.
However, I’ve also written of James Clavell’s Asian saga and John Grisham’s legal thrillers. I’ve also enjoyed Tom Clancy’s spy series.
I’m not usually a straight-up mystery fan, though, despite my love of Sherlock Holmes and, on TV, shows like “Castle” and “CSI.”
Several weeks back, I mentioned a great find from the last Friends of the Kershaw County Library book sale: a multi-CD, 20-hour audio dramatization of a Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy novel, "Elantris."
But that wasn’t all I picked up. I bought a sci-fi novel called “Eve” and four of David Brin’s Uplift Universe novels.
And five novels by a female mystery writer named Kathy Reichs.
If that name sounds even remotely familiar, consider yourself a “Bones” fan. I’ve been watching the FOX television series for most of its six years and enjoy the quirkiness of its main character, Temperance Brennan, and her relationships with her colleagues, especially FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth.
The show, and of course, its main character, are based on Reichs’ novels. Beyond their first and last names and the fact that both versions of Brennan are forensic anthropologists, the two versions are very different from each other.
Temperance “Bones” Brennan from the TV series is in her mid-30s and works for the “Jeffersonian Institute,” a fictional arm of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. She has an extreme lack of either social skills or understanding of pop culture references.
Temperance “Tempe” Brennan is “40-plus;” splits her time between Montreal, Canada, and Charlotte, N.C.; unlike Bones’ virtual lack of emotion, has a fiery temper; and is full of pop culture references.
Oh, and she has quite the personal life. With Reichs’ first novel, 1997’s "Deja Dead," we quickly learn that Brennan recently left her husband, Pete, after she caught him fooling around. As the novels progress, she takes up a long but stormy relationship with Montreal Detective Andrew Ryan. There’s also an old high school flame, Charlie Hunt.
There have been 13 books so far in the Temperance Brennan series. I’m in the middle of the last one now, downloaded for my iPhone; there’s another coming out in August. Reichs also wrote a young adult mystery called “Virals” about Tempe’s grand-niece Tory Brennan. I plan to read both, even though “Virals” is apparently more sci-fi than the hard science Reichs is known for.
"Deja Dead" was, apparently, a huge sensation when it first came out 14 years ago. At first, I couldn’t tell why. "Deja Dead" is a slow read -- for the first half. The second half of the book is fantastic. The rest of the books are firecrackers.
There is a bit of a formula to them. Tempe, whether in Montreal, Charlotte or even spots in South Carolina, quickly discovers something “wrong” with a particular case. Somehow, those cases always end up involving Ryan, even if in a peripheral way, usually because another case intersects with the primary one. That forces Tempe to revel in -- or reevaluate, depending on the book -- her relationship with Ryan.
Some of the stories involve her sister, nicknamed Harry, who always seems to be involved in some crazy romance. Sometimes her college-age daughter, Katy, is brought into the picture. In one novel, Ryan and Tempe’s soon-to-be-ex Pete both end up helping. That was awkward.
There are three things that I think make the Temperance Brennan novels so interesting. First and foremost is the fact that Reichs uses real science and events she’s actually been involved in to write her stories. For example, “Grave Secrets” mostly takes place in Guatemala about a case that very closely follows an excavation Reichs participated in there.
Basing her books on things from her own life gives the novels a great sense of reality. You “see” Reichs in Brennan (something she does not deny in interviews I’ve read) and, so, you root for her.
The other great thing about the series is the secondary characters.
There’s Luc Claudel, an always well-dressed but often dismissive Montreal detective who only grudgingly accepts Tempe’s work on his cases.
Another detective, this one in Charlotte, Erskine “Skinny” Slidell, seems to be a bit of a weasel, a Hollywood cliché of a detective, but is a great investigator with more heart than you’d realize.
Even the pets are major characters: Charlie (not Hunt), the foul-mouthed bird she and Ryan share; Bird, her cat, who, like all felines, couldn’t care less about her mistress except when it comes to food; and Boyd, an unofficial but highly capable cadaver dog.
Finally, there’s the settings. In Reichs’ novels, the cities of Montreal and Charlotte are characters, too. What’s really neat is when she brings the story to South Carolina. Suddenly, I’m seeing references to downtown Columbia and USC. One story takes place in Clover. Charleston and its outlying islands are there, too. I even saw references to U.S. 521 in one novel.
It doesn’t hurt that Tempe’s fictional family often vacationed on Pawley’s Island.
All in all, I have been captivated by this version of “Bones.” Reichs has said “Tempe” is “Bones” at an older age.
I say she’s an alternate -- but that’s the sci-fi lover in me.
I also say check out Reichs’ novels for some great summer reading.