Monday, July 18, 2016

Spider Bones

July 17, 2016

Kathy Reichs' Spider Bones. Simon & Schuster, 2010.




I love Kathy Reichs for the fast read, the way she sucks me relentlessly in to the next chapter, and the scientific details that I can pick up without actually having to study science. Temperance Brennan is of course a forensic anthropologist called in to analyze bodies of victims of crime, accidents, suicide, or war. This novel, # 12 or 13 in the Bones series, is about attempting to clarify the identity of a body found in Quebec whose fingerprints say he is a man killed in Vietnam more than forty years before. The quest takes Tempe back to her native North Carolina and then to Hawaii where the US government agency JPAC, Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, continues to find, identify, and return home the bodies of thousands of American servicemen. 78,000 from World War II, 8,100 from the Korean War, 120 from the Cold War, and 1,800 from the Vietnamese War. The numbers seem incredible.

Spider Bones is not my favourite Reichs offering. A bit overwrought, with gratuitous references to deviant sexual practices and complications about gangs and drug trafficking in Hawaii. I did find it most interesting to learn details about methods of identification. Who knew that there are some pitfalls with DNA matching, especially when twins or parents who are "chimeras" (which she explains but I will not attempt to summarize)? Something about cross contamination between mother and placenta. The inclusion of this information does emphasize the importance of peer reviewed journals and of professionals keeping up with developments in their field of expertise.

We are still haunted by the war in Vietnam and what it did to America and Americans. Reading Spider Bones, I kept thinking about the Canadian novel The Time In Between by David Bergen which tells the story of a veteran who relocated to the Fraser Valley. As Miriam Toews describes it: "a deeply moving meditation on love and loss, truth and its elusiveness, and a compelling portrait of a haunted man, Charles Boatman, and his daughter who seeks to solve the mystery of his disappearance." 

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