Sunday, December 16, 2012

Reader's Diary #917- Kathy Reichs: Bones are Forever

In the acknowledgements of Kathy Reichs' Bones are Forever she thanks, among others, several Yellowknifers. Among them is a friend of mine. Reich's spells her name wrong. Not a huge deal, though it did cause me some trepidation. Set partially in Yellowknife, I wondered what other inaccuracies I'd find.

There were more. She refers to a neighbouring town of Behchoko, saying how it used to be called Rae-Enzo. No, it was called Rae-Edzo. A local character refers to the Northwest Territories as a province— which we'd never do. This last character also blames farming and forestry for endangering the wildlife. Seriously? In the NWT? When she finally does get facts right, it's intrusive to the narrative. Temperance, the main character, decides to read a book and Reichs seems to cut and paste whole paragraphs, resulting in long boring history lessons that ruined any flow of suspense she had going.

And clearly she was going for suspense. So many chapters ended with cliff hangers, I expected Robert Langdon to show up, to stamp on Temperance's fingers and yell, "enough, already!"

But my absolute biggest beef of the book is the convoluted plot.I admit being hooked at the beginning. Temperance has made a gruesome discovery in Montreal. Suffice it to say it involves a lot of dead babies. Not for the faint of heart, it at least grabs a reader's attention. The main suspect has made a run for it, which leads Temperance and her fellow investigators to Yellowknife. And that, unfortunately, is where the whole book goes completely off the rails.

In a "Forensic Files" section at the end of the book, Reichs describes how this book came to being. It seems that the dead babies bit was inspired by three child murder cases that she'd worked on. (Kathy Reichs is a forensic anthropologist in real life.) Recognizing how disturbing such cases are, she knew she wanted to work it into a plot. Then she says she had the good fortune of being invited to Yellowknife to attend the Northwords Literacy Festival. She comes and like many before her is fascinated by the place— the drugs, environmentalists, mining. Now she wants to write a book about that. But instead of simply writing two books, she tries to combine the two. She fails. Miserably. The baby story is far more interesting and better written but as soon as Temperance lands in Yellowknife, it's practically forgotten about and replaced with a mess of competing ideas, none of which were as compelling. 

It's truly a dreadful, dreadful book.


Anonymous said...

Sooo, I'm think you're maybe saying *not* recommended?
Well, I'm glad it's not just me! Haven't read this particular one, but did try several Reichs in the past & did not turn into a fan.

John Mutford said...

Leavesandpages: I usually stop short of recommending to read or to avoid, believing that it should be to each his/her own. In this case I will make an exception: AVOID! AVOID! AVOID!

Anonymous said...

I always say recommended (or *not* recommended) in my reviews, now you've got me rethinking that one ... :-)
I really like your reviews, John, even when we have different ideas on certain books/authors (as has happened once or twice) - it certainly adds richness to the online conversation, and makes me take a second look at what I'm saying & why I feel that way.
~Barb (in B.C.)

Perogyo said...

Oh that's disappointing! I am always so much more critical about books set in Japan than books set in, say, New York City, where I have never been.

I would wonder if this book would be acceptable to the rest of us? I guess with the convoluted plot, probably not!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Oh dear, this sounds like a writing experiment gone horribly wrong.

John Mutford said...

Leavesandpages: Don't rethink it! Seriously, any intelligent person would take a review (or a recommendation) with a grain of salt anyway. So, I don't see the harm in recommending or not recommending books, it's just something I'm not always personally comfortable with.

Perogyo: I know what you mean. I had issues with The Shipping News for that reason, but the problems with Bones Are Forever go beyond the setting.

Barbara: At the end she has a pretentious bit about how the writing process was a bit like making soup. I'd send it back to the kitchen.

Loni said...


I keep seeing her books everywhere and wondering if I'd like them... maybe not.

John Mutford said...

Loni: I have a bunch of her books on my shelf besides this one. I won't be rushing to read them.