Book Review

Déjà Dead

Déjà Dead

  • Author: Kathy Reichs
  • Genre: Mystery/Thriller
  • Publication Date: September 2, 1997
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • Series: Temperance Brennan #1

CONTENT WARNING: murder, gore, blood, mutilation, sexual assault, death of an animal (off-page), violence, mention of child abuse (off-page)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Rarely has a debut crime novel inspired such widespread excitement. A born storyteller, Dr. Kathy Reichs walks in the steps of her heroine, Dr. Temperance Brennan. She spends her days in the autopsy suite, the courtroom, the crime lab, with cops, and at exhumation sites. Often her long days turn into harrowing nights.

It’s June in Montreal, and Tempe, who has left a shaky marriage back home in North Carolina to take on the challenging assignment of director of forensic anthropology for the province of Quebec, looks forward to a relaxing weekend.

First, though, she must stop at a newly uncovered burial site in the heart of the city. One look at the decomposed and decapitated corpse, stored neatly in plastic bags, tells her she’ll spend the weekend in the crime lab. This is homicide of the worst kind. To begin to find some answers, Tempe must first identify the victim. Who is this person with reddish hair and a small bone structure?

Something about the crime scene is familiar to Tempe: the stashing of the body parts, the meticulous dismemberment. One case in particular comes to mind: the murder of sixteen-year-old Chantale Trottier, who’d arrived in the morgue naked, less than a year before, and packaged in plastic garbage bags.

Tempe’s convinced there are parallels between the two cases, but it will take more victims to persuade her police colleagues.

Knowing there is a killer on the streets who may soon find a new victim, Tempe calls upon all her forensic skills, including bone, tooth, and bite mark analysis and X-ray microflourescence to try to prove that the cases are related and to stop the killer before he strikes again. The next victim may be closer to home—Tempe’s longtime friend Gabby, her college-age daughter Katy, or Tempe herself.

I’ve been slowly working my way through episodes of Bones over the last few years. There’s so many things I love about the show: the cool science and anthropology stuff, Temperance and the rest of the quirky characters, and the thrill of uncovering a mystery, even if it’s a little creepy or scary at times. So when I realized that this TV show I love so much was actually based on a book series, it was a no-brainer for me to get a copy of book 1 in the series. I know that TV and movie adaptations are often quite different from the books, but I seriously wasn’t prepared for how different it was going to be in this case.

Initially, I was incredibly disappointed in this book. I was waiting for Brennan’s awkward yet lovable personality to pop up, but it just never did. But once I stopped comparing the two and just started reading this book as completely separate from the show, I started to get more into it. Just be ready — don’t go into this expecting very much in common with what you’ve seen on TV.

The Tempe in this series is older, navigating a marriage on the rocks, and she’s a recovering alcoholic with a teenage daughter. She moved to Montreal for work, and there’s a lot of French language in the book, but don’t worry. If you, like me, don’t know anything about French, it’s all really well defined, so you won’t get lost or confused. I tend not to see people in recovery portrayed in books too often, and I thought that it was done really well. Tempe is triggered multiple times throughout the book, and we get a front row seat to her thought process as she works through her cravings to drink:

“It was the battle inside that was wearing me down. 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. I’d loved it once. Hell, I loved it still. But the enchantment would destruct. For me, any trifling dalliance and the affair would consume and overpower.”

She’s stressed and tends to be irritable at times. But realistically, who doesn’t? When she’s forced to work closely with a rude and condescending detective, he consistently manages to get under her skin. I loved how her snark comes out throughout the story, unfiltered, and it echoes thoughts that I’ve had about similar people. Seriously? As I read, Claudel definitely deserved the attitude:

“Less than thirty seconds since his arrival and I wanted to rip the sandwich from his hand and insert it forcefully up his nose, or any other orifice. Claudel did not bring out the best in me when I was relaxed and rested. This morning I was neither.”

The story is dark and brutal and violent as well. There’s a serial killer on the loose, but no one seems to believe Tempe when she sees a pattern. The gory details are shared in the story, but in a clinical, almost detached way. While I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to work in this field, Tempe’s thoughts touch on it during the story. She discusses the fine line between separating work and emotions, and the need to not detach too much or death becomes meaningless:

“I saw death too often, too close, and I feared I was losing a sense of its meaning. I knew I couldn’t grieve for the human being that each of my cadavers had been. That would empty my emotional reservoir for sure. Some amount of professional detachment was mandatory in order to do the world, but not to the extent of abandoning all feeling.”

The pace was fairly fast throughout the story, picking up exponentially towards the end. There were a lot of plot twists, and I enjoyed seeing how everything unfolded and then came together to create a whole, coherent storyline. Overall, while it’s a huge departure from the show I love, I can easily see this becoming a series that I can get invested in. I’m definitely planning to read the next book to see where this goes. 

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 15

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