Fiction: “Deja Dead” by Kathy Reichs

For those of you who know me in ‘real’ ‘life’, y’all know that I watch a lot of TV. One of the shows that I enjoy (though don’t particularly talk about, because there’s not really a need to?) is Bones, starring Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz. Ms. Deschanel plays the title character, “Bones,” which is the nickname of Dr. Temperance Brennan, the premier forensic anthropologist for the Jeffersonian Institute in D.C. The series is based on the mystery series by Kathy Reichs; Deja Dead is the first in the series.

I picked up Deja Dead originally because I was intrigued by the TV show and wanted to see the similarities. (This is the second time I’ve read this book.) There are stunning differences. First, in the TV show, Brennan is very limited in terms of pop culture knowledge. In the first episode, Booth (Boreanaz) tells her that she’s the Scully to his Mulder, and her response is the almost catchphrase, “I don’t know what that means.”

The book series, on the other hand, places Brennan in the … oh crap, I have to get the book from the counter because it takes place in Montreal and everything’s in French. Ah, screw it. (I’m typing this on my mother’s laptop, and the counter is far away. Also, the keys are weird. And there’s a number pad. And I can’t always find the backspace button. I miss my laptop, but I’ve got time to kill before I go back to my apartment and I finished the book this morning, so.) ANYWAY. Brennan works for the Canadian/Quebecois version of the Jeffersonian, doing her thing as forensic anthropologist in Montreal. She has a cat, she watches TV, she is a professor in North Carolina normally (she’s on sabbatical in this book), and she is married and has a teenaged daughter. On my first read [[WHERE’S THE DELETE KEY oh there it is]], I was horrendously confused. I mean, I know television takes poetic license — I do all the time when I write my television pilot[s], but, I seriously blinked.

Let’s discuss the plot of the novel. Brennan gets a call from a detective downstairs in her office building who says that a body has been found, and could she please examine it. She hopes that it’s not a criminal case – after all, the body was discovered at a cemetary, it’s entirely possible that it’s an ancient/older body dug up on accident. No dice. She gets there, and the body has not only been there a relatively short time, but it’s also mutilated — clearly the victim of violent death.

Over the course of the next month or so, another body is discovered, and brutalized in almost the same fashion. Brennan suspects a serial killer, but her detective counterpart Luc Claudel doesn’t believe her, because she’s a woman and stupid (or whatever). Brennan decides to do some investigating on her own, and over the course of two hundred pages, finds links between the two victims, as well as at least three more victims.

When Brennan’s in the lab and working on her autopsies and such, it reads a lot like Patricia Cornwell: a smart scientist specializing in anatomy and physiology with a strong technical background. The difference between Brennan and Kay Scarpetta is that Brennan is human. She is strong yet vulnerable. When she protests to Claudel and his partner that yes, there is evidence that this case is quickly becoming serial, she doesn’t back down, but she is hurt that they won’t believe her. Scarpetta wouldn’t back down, but she’d just get angry, and spout ten dollar words and eventually Benton Wesley would come and calm her down which would just make her angrier and then I’d get pissed and throw the book at the wall. She also doesn’t condescend like Scarpetta does. In the same scenario, Brennan would show her evidence calmly and clearly, and then be hurt when they just ignore her. Again, Scarpetta would use large words and talk down to the detectives and then be all pissed when they get pissed at her.

So the novel progresses, and as is the case, the killer manages to make the cases all about Brennan, but it’s different than when the killer makes it all about Kay. This is explained with psychology: that Brennan is impeding the killer’s ability to continue with his life (of killing and mutilating women), and that’s why she has to be gotten rid of. Unlike with Kay, where it’s because he’s fixated on her for no real apparent reason.

What I didn’t like about this novel (and what I had forgotten since the first time I read it) was how graphic and brutal the murders were. We never see them first-hand, but we hear about them. There were a couple of times I had to skip to the end of the paragraph because I didn’t want to hear about it anymore. So if you’re squeamish about very violent crimes against women, I’d steer clear of this novel.

Also — because strong female characters have to have a flaw — Brennan is a recovering alcoholic. As the plot becomes increasingly threatening to Brennan, her urge to have a drink gets greater. (Spoiler alert: she doesn’t drink.) It’s not a huge deal, in the grand scheme of things, but it didn’t need to be so … not prevalent, but touched upon. Also-also, the prose tends to get a tad purple:

I’d spent four hours fighting off an old lover, a lover from whom I’d never be free. All night I’d gazed temptation in the face — the chestnut glow of scotch on ice, the amber beer poured from bottles into throats. I’d smelled my moonshine sweetheart and seen his light in the eyes around me.

Oy. Seriously, “moonshine sweetheart”? I don’t think real alcoholics talk like that.

So. If you like old-school Patricia Cornwell/Kay Scarpetta (before Scarpetta became a bitch) and are okay with brief discussions of brutality against women (serial killer and victims), go ahead and pick it up from the library. I wouldn’t spend money on it, but it’s an okay read.

Grade for Deja Dead: 2 stars.

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