Mystery author # 6: Kathy Reichs
Title: Déjà Dead
No. in series: 1
Year of publication: 1997
Availability: In print
Setting and time: Montreal, Canada, summer of 1996 or 1997
Type of mystery: Murder, thriller
Type of investigator: Forensic anthropologist/amateur detective
Some themes: Serial murder, friendship, stalking.
Dr. Temperance Brennan, forensic anthropologist for the Laboratoire de Medecine Legale in Montreal, handles mostly cases where bodies need to be identified by means of forensic examination or the cause of death needs to be established for remains that are too decomposed or otherwise messed up for a regular autopsy. When she notices suspicious similarities between the dismembered remains of women found in various places around the city, she begins to suspect that there is a serial killer on the loose. Working on that suspicion, Tempe (as she is called) begins an amateur investigation of her own, and unearths yet another body, thus catching the attention of the killer. She has difficulties convincing the police there really is a serial killer in the city until an expert from the FBI backs her up and a full-fledged investigation is set in motion. But Tempe is not willing to sit on the sidelines and just provide forensic evidence – she wants to be in the thick of things. But the killer wants to silence her, and her best friend, frightened witless by a stalker, has disappeared.
Review: This is a mystery that could not by any stretch be called a cosy like my previous reads. It is visceral, bloody and dark. I used to enjoy reading Patricia Cornwell’s stories about Dr. Kay Scarpetta (until they started going downhill) and am a regular watcher of CSI, so this is a subject I enjoy and know something about.
The story is good, quite thrilling in parts, and the red herring is well done. Reichs writes from first hand knowledge about forensic anthropology (her profession) and about the city of Montreal (where she works), and it shows in the writing. While other reviewers have complained about the autopsies and examinations of bodies being too long and too graphic, I have no such complaints.
The style of the story is uneven, and for such an intelligent woman, the heroine is surprisingly stupid at times. I admit that her going out alone in the dark and rain to search for clues on the site of an abandoned monastery was a heart-thumping device worthy of a gothic thriller (which I guess this is, to a point), but is anyone that stupid except innocent heroines in gothic romances? And her handling of her friend didn’t make sense at all – I mean, if you had someone staying in your spare bedroom and had not seen them for days, wouldn’t you take a look to see if they were still there? And if you suspected that you were being stalked, wouldn’t you be a bit more careful? I guess Reichs is trying to show Tempe as being a very careful person when it comes to her job but a bit reckless outside it, but all she manages to show is that Tempe is liable to lapse into gross stupidity.
Apart from these inconsistencies and a further touch of firstbookitis in the writing style (repetitious wording and long descriptive passages about things that don’t matter to the story), this is a thrilling mystery. I should know – it is over 500 pages long and I had planned to read it over three days, but instead I finished it in one sitting. I have been told the books get better as the series advances, so I will definitely be reading more of them.
Rating: Needs a little bit of work on the writing style, but the story is good. Looking forward to reading the next one. 3+ stars.
Here is a link to Reich’s website and an excerpt from the book. Also excerpts from her other books and information about her.