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brianmartin

Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

Deja Dead (1997) by Kathy Reichs

Déjà Dead  - Kathy Reichs

Go figure: living in a vacuum can lead to some surprises. I watch virtually nothing that isn't live on live TV, and where TV shows are concerned I also try to avoid reading or watching anything about the series while I am watching it. In some cases this leaves me little choice but to extrapolate from my own experiences. Since my experiences with Bones have mostly been good ones (though that seems to be changing ever since the death of one of my favorite characters), I assumed that the rest of the world saw what I was seeing. Evidently this is not so. Bones has never been ranked higher than #29 in the ratings and its average rating over the first nine seasons is right about 43. That's pretty good, I guess, but not what I would have expected.

I approach books the same way. About all I knew of Kathy Reichs' Temperance Brennan books was that they (and Reichs herself) had inspired the series. So I was in for another surprise when I read Deja Dead, the first book in the series, only to discover that if, in either one, the books or the series, the name of the main character was changed, you'd have a difficult time connecting the two. For one thing, the Brennan of the book isn't the robot she is in the series. This makes her in some respects more realistic but, I've discovered, significantly less entertaining. Deja Dead, in fact, is a slow-starter that works its way up to middling. Perhaps the later books improve, but I doubt that I will ever find out.

The book is premised on the idea that Brennan, an American serving as the Director of Forensic Anthropology for the Canadian province of Quebec, investigates a series of murders that may be linked to a serial killer, thereby putting herself, her family, and her friends in danger. But it's really all about her. Her "family" is a daughter away at college and her "friends" aren't plural. The friend in question is named Gabby, and she's a flake. Not a charming flake, just a flake. As characters go, she could get killed and it wouldn't raise an eyebrow.

So that leaves Brennan. She truly is in danger. Why? Because Reichs says so. What I mean by that is that Brennan is compelled to take to the field primarily because Reichs saddles her with a sexist, proprietary cop who's smart when he wants to be, dumb and exclusionary otherwise. And even at that Brennan's actions are often dangerous and silly. But it is interesting to note, for Bones viewers, that another reason she must take to the field is that bones don't reveal nearly as much as the show would have you believe. With just her lab results, she finds it difficult to convince even the relatively good cops that the murders are the work of one man. (I'm giving precedence to the book written by Reich rather than the show produced by Reich.)

Let's face it, though: Brennan's actions are typical of amateur sleuths everywhere. The problem is, Brennan isn't typical. She's a highly educated professional working in tandem (ostensibly) with a modern police force. We aren't supposed to identify with Claudel, the sexist cop, but it quickly becomes difficult not to do so. Brennan's motivation is impatience and moral outrage; that it becomes personal is a result of her own meddling. That isn't good enough.

At one point in the book, Brennan reaches out to a friend for a psychological profile of the killer (another significant difference between the Brennans of book and TV). Perhaps, if Brennan herself is so dull (she has a cat and she used to drink -- not exactly earth-shaking character development), we can find something more compelling in the killer. But it's not to be. The profile that comes back is generic serial killer stuff, and it doesn't matter much anyway since he is off-screen nearly all the time. When he isn't...well, then he becomes generically stupid.

On the other hand, the book is reasonably well-written, though excessively detailed -- oddly, though, not regarding the science. After a slow start, it picks up some steam, but it's almost embarrassing when it does. You want to berate Brennan for her foolishness in going into the field, but at the same time, it's only when she does that the book becomes mildly interesting.