The Bone Collection: Four Novellas (Temperance Brennan novellas), by Kathy Reichs

Nine stars

In this collection of short stories based on the highly popular Temperance Brennan series, Reichs allows readers to enjoy four pieces in a single collection. While three have been on the market before, Reichs includes one that speaks of how Tempe found forensic anthropology, surely of greatest interest to series fans. As I have read three of these before, I will paste my previous reviews on the date they were posted to GoodReads, and then expound on the never before published piece.

Bones in her Pocket (8 stars)

Fans of the Reichs series starring Tempe Brennan will love this short story as a teaser before the next major literary release. Reichs offers up a teaser of the upcoming novel Bones of the Lost (which I left untouched) to lure her most ardent fans into devouring this quick read. When few bones turn up in a lake, Brennan must use all her forensic anthropological skills to solve this whodunit. What looks to be a simple case of ‘identify those bones’ turns into a much larger mystery, which is more multi-faceted than it appears. The chase is on and another set of forensic clues leads to a second case, with an end that no one sees coming. Reichs is able to boil down her full-length novels into a short story, yet does not lose any of its excitement.

Reichs has proven her ability to present an equally exciting story without the character development and personal drama. Still filled with her poison-tongue writing style, peppered with humour as well, Reichs tells a gruesome story and uses her famed character’s abilities to crack the case wide open. When things veer away from simple bone identification, Brennan turns into a super sleuth and puts her own life in danger to tie up all the loose ends. A wonderful appetizer as fans wait for the next instalment of the Brennan saga, well worth the annual wait.

Swamp Bones (8 stars)

Reichs teases her readers with this wonderful novella ahead of her next full-length sensation. When Dr. Brennan heads to the Florida Everglades on a brief vacation, she’s called to help a long-time friend with a project fit for the birds. Learning more about the local Burmese python situation, the avowed foe of all animals of the Everglades, Brennan assists with a necroscopy that reveals something with which she is greatly familiar; bones from a dead body. Brennan abandons her vacation ideas and begins looking for clues as to whose bones these might be and how they might have died. Once she becomes sure that the victim met their match at the hands of a human and not the python, Brennan pieces things together in her sleuthing ways. Even with a name for the victim, little is known about the rationale or how to stop more killings. When more bones surface, it is up to Brennan and the local Miami-Dade Police to catch the killer before more bodies can slither out of sight. A highly informative story, filled with Brennan’s stubborn wit and great anthropological learning experiences.

Reichs rarely falls flat when she uses her Tempe Brennan character. No matter the locale or the crime, the story always expands in ways unseen at the beginning. Reichs uses so many ideas and finds gold in them all, showing how versatile and all encompassing forensic anthropology can be. I am eager to see if there are tie-ins with this novella and her upcoming book, meant for the most attentive readers and greatest fans.

Bones on Ice (9 stars)

Kathy Reichs uses all her skills in this unique novella, which sees forensic anthropologist Temperance (Tempe) Brennan involved in a cold case like no other, foul play atop Mount Everest. When Tempe is called in to work on a weekend, she’s less than impressed. Once she learns that she’s personally been requested to handle the identification of a frozen, mummified corpse, things get a little more interesting. While trekking up Mount Everest, Brighton Hallis perished amongst the elements, the rest of her crew finding her body on their descent. It’s been three years and Tempe must work with what she has to determine if this is, in fact, Brighton. With over 200 bodies scattered around the “death zone” area of Everest, it is anything but a foregone conclusion that these remains are those of Brighton. Reichs explores the world of mountain climbing, where individuals lose their identity and become known by their coloured clothing, the only differential when surrounded by snow and ice. What appears to be a simple body succumbing to the elements soon becomes a murder victim, leaving Tempe to piece it all together. Was it one of the climbing crew with a vendetta that wanted Brighton to die up where no one would find her, or perhaps a rival climber who wanted glory? All this leaves the legal argument of charging anyone in Charlotte with a crime that took place in Nepal. In her anthropological sleuthing way, Tempe pieces it all together, but finds herself more confused the further she digs. A wonderful novella to bridge the time until the next full-length Tempe Brennan novel hits the shelves.

Reichs remains the queen of her craft and is as entertaining as she is educational. Tackling forensics in ways no other author (outside the field) has ever attempted, she keeps the reader curious and wondering throughout this piece. From the medical terminology surrounding climbing to the legal matters of a murder on the other side of the world, Reichs leaves few rocks unturned in a short period. Pepper in some humour and a little character bridging between the two major novels and you have a wonderful novella that is sure to tide avid fans over, but not for too long.

First Bones (9 stars)

In this story, Reichs finally offers patient readers a glimpse into how Temperance Brennan got involved in the world of forensic science, as well as introducing a number of characters important throughout the entire series. As the narrative opens in the present day, Brennan is holding vigil for someone in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit, their injuries serious, but still no inkling of their identity for the sake of the reader. At this point, the story shifts into an indeterminate past, with Brennan working at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, trying to finish her PhD with a focus in bioarcheology. Newly-minted Detective Erskine “Skinny” Slidell barges in and demands to see Dr. Becknell, whose experience working alongside the authorities makes her a hot commodity and the apparent forensic archeology of the time. With Becknell on sabbatical, Brennan reluctantly agrees to assist Slidell, examining some charred remains. What was left of a body was found at a fire inside the trailer of Dr. Keith Millikin, who has been running a free clinic for the homeless population around Charlotte. With Millikin missing for the past week, he appears to be the likely victim, though Brennan will have to positively identify him for the authorities. Brought to the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner’s office, Brennan meets Dr. Tim Larabee, who allows her to use the facility to complete her examinations, as well as tossing her some additional work when needed. While working with the limited collection of bones she has on hand, Brennan discovers a bullet hole in the back of the skull and surmises that the fire was not the cause of this man’s death. Dental records confirm that Millikin has not perished in the fire, which is substantiated when the physician appears after a trip south of the border, claiming that he needed some time away. However, Slidell is able to use his crass nature to present an alternate victim, a dentist who runs his own shop and has been cited for health code violations, who is also missing and ends up being a patient of Dr. Millikin. After a body is pulled from a car, left charred as well, Slidell cannot help but wonder if there is a connection. Two bodies, a murderer still on the loose, and Brennan is getting the hang of this forensic anthropology, with a real case on her hands. As Slidell works to nail down a suspect and motive, Brennan offers up a theory based on what she’s seen. After Millikin admits he may have a patient with motive to come after the two victims, Slidell and Brennan rush to a scene, in hopes of stopping any more bloodshed. The motive becomes clear and Brennan becomes more hands-on than Slidell could have imagined, or likely wanted. Moving back to the present, Reichs offers readers the identify of the person in the hospital bed, speculating on the randomness of crimes and victims, though the end result is sure to pull on the heartstrings of the series fan. A wonderful book-end short story for Tempe Brennan fans that solidifies the superior writing style of Kathy Reichs!

I remember beginning this series years ago and how drawn I was to the characters and the ideas behind it. Reichs has continued to develop her characters, both in Charlotte and Montreal, while keeping Dr. Tempe Brennan realistic and in touch with the changes in the field. Some authors falter the more they write in a series, though Reichs seems to get better, pulling on her own experiences. This short story offers that longed for answer of how Tempe got into the field while also permitting the reader to feel the intensity that comes with any case. Much can be learned from this story, as Reichs continues to teach her series regulars both inside the lab and in life’s crazy turns.

Kudos, Madam Reichs for never giving up on Tempe Brennan or your abilities. You dazzle and continue to impress. Please don’t take Tempe away from us, as she leave the television screen next spring.