The Bone Code (Temperance Brennan #20), by Kathy Reichs

Eight stars

I have long been a fan of Kathy Reichs novels, particularly her forensic anthropology series featuring Temperance Brennan. The stories not only entertain and keep the reader on the edge of their seat, but are full of educational moments and peppered with humour to keep things moving along. This was another winner by Reichs, with her cross-border protagonist working magic with bones and unsolved cases. While Dr. Temperance (Tempe) Brennan is preparing for a hurricane in North Carolina, she is visited by a patient woman with a curious mission, to help uncover a death mask that might have been made of her great-aunt many years ago. Brennan is intrigued, but also wary of the heightened winds. She decides to head to South Carolina to see a friend for a few days and is pulled into a mysterious case when the local coroner enlists her assistance with a medical bin that has two unidentified bodies within. While Brennan helps, she is chilled by the memory of a similar case she worked in Montreal. Might they be related? Crossing into Canada, Brennan works the angles of the cold case and tries to find a link, all while being helped by her lover, retired homicide detective Andrew Ryan. Things take many a twists and Brennen will have to work both cases at the same time to find an answer. Reichs uses all her abilities to really bring this story to life and keep the reader hooked until the final page turn.

There’s nothing like the thrill of a hurricane, said no one. Dr. Temperance Brennan is prepping for one and rushing around her office to get things in order, while meteorologists are calling for evacuations. That does not seem to stop some woman from seeking Brennan’s assistance, even if it means waiting all day. Brennan agrees to meet the woman, who shared a twisted tale about her twin sister and how multiples run in her family. It would seem that the woman’s great-aunt was also a twin but disappeared long ago. Now, there is only a death mask of her and yet nothing to go along with a photo of it. Intrigued, Brennan agrees to look into it, but is also leery of the advancing storm.

After surviving the gale force winds, Brennan agrees to visit a friend in South Carolina, particularly with this new mystery of the death mask. On her way there, Brennan is contacted by a local coroner, with a case consultation request. It would seem that a medical bin has washed up after the hurricane, with two decomposing and unidentified bodies within. While Brennan goes to help, she is eerily familiar with the details, as she was part of a case like this in Montreal. Unknown bodies, presumably a teenage girl… could the two be connected, even though they were years apart?

Brennan begins working the angles, which will require her to head north to her second home in Montreal. There, she tries to dig up the case file and draw parallels to the Carolina case. While the detective in Charleston is keen to solve the case she is not one to take any guff, causing Brennan to grit her teeth with some regularity. Luckily, Montreal brings Brennan closer to her lover and former colleague, Andrew Ryan. They are able to make some headway and soon discover that the victim may have arrived in Canada from elsewhere long ago.

While unravelling the story on the old Montreal victim, Brennan uses some newer DNA testing to identify the Charleston victim, a teenage runaway with a sordid past of her own. However, there is much to uncover while trying to trace the story from her last day at home until she ended up in a medical bin. Brennan is determined to not only put a face the the victims, but also find the killer (or killers) who could do such a thing. It won’t be easy, and there is still that nagging death mask query that has Brennan pulled in many directions.

I have long been a fan of Kathy Reichs and her work (including loving Bones, the television spin-off of the books), which has never left me feeling cheated in the world of forensic anthropology. Reichs uses her own life experiences and turns them into wonderful books, helping readers better understand the ins and outs of forensics, medicine, and how victims can go from unknown to identified. While the book series has been long, Reichs has been able to keep it fresh, working two primary setting ands pushing her protagonist out into other parts of both countries when it suits the story. Kathy Reichs is a master of the genre and I hope many others will find (or continue with) this series to see how intense things can get.

Dr. Tempe Brennan is nothing if not a busy woman. As series fans will know, she never rests on her laurels and always has something going on to keep her busy. When she is not using forensics, she’s trying to keep her life in order, finding humour whenever possible. She’s come to really connect with colleagues and friends in both the US and Canada, which adds depth to her character and allows the reader added entertainment throughout. I’m always eager to eye what else one can learn about Brennan in these novels, as Reichs adds tidbits in each piece.

While there is always a strong core of secondary characters, Reichs is sure to add some new faces to keep things interesting. The reader will find many of those here, some who are meant to be loved while others are best left at arm’s length. Reichs uses her great style to breathe life into each individual and uses them as needed to advance the cases or backstories of others, which appears to work well here. It’s nice to have some of those familiar faces, including Andrew Ryan, though old storylines are sometimes best used to pass the time, rather than plan centre stage.

The story was strong and held my attention throughout. Reichs uses COVID-19 as a passing subplot, hinting that it has passed, so there is no mention of pandemic protocols or masked limitations, though something new has popped up in South Carolina (read the book to learn more). The plot works well and, in usual Brennan fashion, ties unknown remains into a quest to offer a victim their own identity. In a story that spans a few months, Reichs adds some ‘realism’ to the story, ensuring it does not seem that a week is long enough to crack open the case with ease. This paced approach and mid-length chapters keep the story moving along at a relatable pace, with twists and turns throughout to keep things exciting. With strong medical and forensic topics throughout, Reichs educates her readers as they are highly entertained, adding humour where needed to keep things from getting too somber. I have come to love the series and cannot get enough of these books. I cannot wait to see what’s next, as Tempe Brennan has not lost any steam, in my humble Canadian opinion.

Kudos, Madam Reichs, for another winning novel. This series is one that always gets me excited and reader for new discoveries. I hope many others will find it, if they have not already!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: