Crime fiction with moral undertones

FORENSIC anthropologist Temperance Brennan, the heroine of more than a dozen excellent crime novels, is back to her crime-solving best.

A newborn baby is found dead in an apartment and Dr Brennan and her former lover, lieutenant-detective Andrew Ryan are called in to investigate.

They soon discover two more dead babies but no mother.

Just to make the backstory more complicated for Tempe, a man with whom she had a brief fling - Sergeant Oliver Hasty of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is also called onto the case (she must have a thing for men with authority).

The hunt for the missing mother takes the uncomfortable and competitive trio to the wilds of Canada, to a mining town where environmentalists, the indigenous people and huge mining companies are not always in agreement about priorities.

While following a familiar path for a crime novel, what marks out Bones are Forever are the questions Reichs raises about responsibility.

Are people responsible for each other? Does a community have a duty to protect wildlife when there's money to be made? How does society look after those with learning disabilities and/or mental illness?

Reichs is one of the most polished crime writers around. She is a forensic anthropologist working in North America and her books are fictionalised versions of cases she has worked. This depth of knowledge gives her novels real authority and authenticity - you rarely have to suspend belief.

As with all sympathetic leading characters, Tempe is far from perfect. She has a temper, she's proud and makes errors of judgment. But she's also brilliant, compassionate and fights like a cornered wolf to find answers for the dead.

While there's an underlying subplot about Tempe's private life that follows on from previous installments, the books all stand alone as novels in their own right.

Because it broaches broader subjects than previous novels, Bones are Forever is one of the best Reichs has written. The earlier books are all tight, well-written, fine examples of detective fiction but Bones are Forever steps up a notch and is all the more enjoyable for it.

It seems even more relevant and perfectly timed because it touches on the extent to which mining companies will go to ensure they can dig resources out of the ground, despite any other competing interests, including those of the traditional owners - an important issue that affects Australia in a similar way.


 Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Lismore.

Title: Bones are Forever

Author: Kathy Reichs

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