"Deformity of the bone. Maybe. Cortical destruction on a metacarpal. Maybe. Localised infection? Systemic disease process? Postmortem destruction, either purposeful or natural? A combination of the above? I don't have a diagnosis."
The skeleton is that of a young girl, no more than 14 years old, and forensic anthropologist Dr Temperance Brennan is struggling to keep her emotions in check. Coroner Jean Bradette is being evasive, insisting the bones are ancient and of no interest. But it doesn't quite add up, and a frustrated Tempe is convinced that Bradette is hiding something. It's not Tempe's case; she's overwhelmed with more urgent work in the lab. But the nagging in her subconscious won't let up.
A memory is triggered, deep in her hindbrain: the disappearance of a childhood friend; no warning, no explanation. Detective Andrew Ryan is working a series of parallel cases, and requires Tempe's forensic expertise. Three missing persons, three unidentified bodies, all female, all early- to mid-teens. Could there be a serial killer at work? Was Bradette's skeleton another in this tragic line of young victims? Or is Tempe over-reacting, making connections where none exist? Can she and Ryan put their personal tensions aside, and stop the killer before another young girl falls prey?
Working on instinct, Tempe takes matters into her own hands. But she couldn't have predicted where this case would lead, or the horrors it would eventually uncover. Can Tempe maintain a professional distance as the past catches up with her in this, her most deeply personal case yet?
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Tempe Brennan's back in her tenth mystery. For those not in the know, Dr. Temperance Brennan is a forensic anthropologist who divides her time between Québec and North Carolina. No stranger to personal trouble, she's an ex-alcoholic and single mother assigned to gruesome, personally dangerous cold cases. This time, Tempe's on the trail of her vanished childhood friend Évangéline Landry, a young Acadian who summered at Pawleys Island back when Tempe was a child. Tempe and Évangéline would spend the summers creating poetry and staging dramas as Évangéline shared her love of Longfellow's epic namesake poem (his Évangéline included a romanticized account of the Acadian deportation and its aftermath). One day, Évangéline Landry vanished without a trace, and for thirty years Tempe has longed to know what happened to her.
One of Tempe's coworkers in Québec wants her to look at a skeleton uncovered in New Brunswick, and Tempe starts to put together pieces that point to Évangéline. She is consumed with uncovering the truth behind her friend's disappearance at her own personal risk. As with previous novels, Reichs does her homework well. Acadia was an area of Eastern Canada originally settled by the French, who were later forcefully evicted by the British. Many exiled Acadians fled to Louisiana, where the name "Acadian" shortened to "Cajun." Next to Québec, New Brunswick has the largest percentage of Francophones in Canada (35% of the province is French-speaking).
Tempe's quest takes her to the small town of Tracadie-Sheila, New Brunswick. I admit, I was curious in Reichs' choice of town, because one of my favorite Francophone pop artists, Jean-François Breau, (Expose) is from Tracadie-Sheila, as is Star Académie winner Wilfred Bouthillier. One reason I love Reichs' books is because I lived in Québec and majored in Québec Studies, and she effortlessly manages to work in in-the-know elements of modern Quebecois culture. No mention of Breau or Wilfred, but Garou's Seul makes an appearance (in the first Temperance Brennan novel Déjà Dead, it was Roch Voisine's Helene).
Tempe's on-again, off-again romance with Detective Ryan is definitely off-again here. Ryan has his hands full with cold cases and personal problems, and although the two consult each other, there's precious little romantic involvement this time around. However, the vibrant cast of supporting characters fills the void.
As usual, there are dark subject matters here that may offend some, including post mortems and torture, exploitation and rape of minors, so consider yourself warned. The dialogue is witty and balanced, the pacing generally impeccable, although the ending seemed a tad rushed. Unlike some of the past few Tempe novels, I felt that this was an excellent effort that was truer in spirit to some of the first few Reichs novels. It generally doesn't stray from the realm of believability, and Reichs' expertise as a forensic anthropologist and her experiences living in Québec lend Tempe an unshakable credibility.
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