It is always scary when a book promises to change your life; what if the change is not for the better? Thus it is good that we have plenty of books like Monday Mourning by Kathy Reichs that make no such promise and carry no such threat. This book is a successful and enjoyable entertainment, no more and no less.
In addition to being the real-life model for protagonist Temperance Brennan, Reichs is the author of a successful series of crime novels, this being the seventh. Like Reichs, Brennan is a forensic anthropologist. She solves crimes by applying equal amounts scientific knowledge and moxie.
Brennan tells her story, and reveals herself to be at home in the world of detective fiction. She is world-weary, but with an overly strong moral drive. She is very bright, though her relationship to the world is most comfortably expressed via wisecracks.
For example: "With Charbonneau, the experience is always a pleasure. With his partner [Claudel], the experience is always an experience." Reich/Brennan's wit makes the book fun.
Here, Brennan is residing in Montreal, one of her two stomping grounds. Three skeletal remains are found in the basement of a pizza parlor, and it falls to Brennan to discover their origin and, of course more importantly, their meaning. Were they simply ancient remains, the book would be over rather quickly.
In the earlier parts of the book, we bear witness to Brennan's court testimony, the process of autopsy, a lot of laboratory science information and a Montreal triptych. Though not the most edge-of-your-seat material, in Reichs' hands it is perfectly readable, and much of it helps set the stage for the later parts of the book.
As the questions and the evil begin to build, Monday Mourning becomes a gripping thriller. The twists are unpredictable, with mounting unreliable clues and misdirections. It is not just a whodunit, but also a who-got-done and a who-is-who. Parts are not for the squeamish (what do I mean by parts?). The end games defy logic, but are perfectly fine in this fictional world.
Though Monday Mourning is the seventh in the Temperance Brennan series, clearly one does not need to read the previous books to get what is going on here. Brennan's personality and background are all filled in. The only gap may be regarding Luc Claudel (the aforementioned partner). Though he is Brennan's foil, and has been for some time, this fact is more stated than demonstrated in this story. Claudel comes off as simply a jerk, not a recurring enemy who has earned such strong vitriol from Brennan.
As with most crime novels, the elements are all familiar. Reichs does not reinvent the wheel. However she does subject it to some state-of-the-art scientific testing, thus revealing details of the wheel heretofore unknown. Oiled by Reich's readability and storytelling skills, this wheel provides its reader a smooth ride.
-- Michael Salkind
Kathy Reichs will read from and sign Monday Mourning
Monday, June 28, 7:30 p.m.
Tattered Cover Bookstore Cherry Creek, 2955 E. 1st Ave. at Milwaukee, Denver, 303/322-7727
Tuesday, June 29, noon
Murder By the Book, 1574 S. Pearl St., Denver, 303/871-9401
Tuesday, June 29, 7 p.m.
High Crimes, 946 Pearl St., Boulder, 303/443-8346