Author: Kathy Reichs
Series Title: Tempe Brennan Mysteries
Individual Titles: Déjà Dead; Death du Jour; Deadly Décisions; Fatal Voyage (hardcover only)
Update, July 2002 - Fatal Voyage is now out in paperback; barring a few not-quite-credible coincidences, it continues the pattern of excellent narration and accurate information set out in the first three novels. The fifth, Grave Secrets, is now out in hardcover.
Update, July 2003 - A year later, Grave Secrets is in paperback - get ready for more linguistic mindbenders, as we're headed to Guatemala this time. Entry number six in the series is Bare Bones, look for it in hardcover...
Update, June 2005 - Bare Bones has been in paperback for a while, sorry... now joined by Monday Mourning, in which Tempe tries to determine the fate of three skeletons from the basement of a pizza parlor. According to a blurb on the cover, there's a TV series in the works based on the novels, so keep an eye out for that as well as Cross Bones, due out in hardcover.
This series is right up my alley - mystery, French, complicated plots and keep-you-up-all-night suspense. Following the two-country career of forensic anthropologist Tempe (that's short for Temperance) Brennan through some seriously disturbing cases - dismembered women in garbage bags, eviscerated twin baby boys, and digging up long-dead nuns, for example - and throws in a whole pile of colorful supporting characters, from police detectives to oddball relatives. Brennan, a recovering (recovered?) alcoholic fleeing a divorce, makes a great focus for a series, especially with the intellectual bent to most of the forensic bits (Reichs knows her stuff, having done the job herself before writing about it, so the details are accurate - sometimes a bit too accurate). Set mainly in Québec, there are occasional excursions to North Carolina, where Brennan works the rest of the year. I've seen them compared to Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta set, and I admit I've got all of those, too, but they're really quite different when you get right down to it, although fans of one would probably enjoy the other as well. The latest, only out in hardcover, concerns the discovery of unaccounted-for body parts at the site of a plane crash. There is a definite darker tone to some sections - children killed, important supporting characters too, and a real "mom-moment" in the first one when it appears Tempe's daughter Katy may have fallen prey to the the killer she's stalking, but there are definitely lighter moments, often provided by Tempe's exasperating younger sister, Harry - and really, what is more exasperating than a younger sister, anyway? A rudimentary knowledge of French is helpful, but most everything is immediately translated.
Available in Pocket Books paperback editions for about $7.99, they're weighty enough for distraction but not so heavy as to be a ponderous read - a good balance between literature and entertainment, I think, if dark and, well, sort of disturbing at times. So grab a mug of hot chocolate and curl up on the couch with one of these - great way to while away the early-arriving winter nights.
Legare est amare...