Death du Jour (Temperance Brennan #2)
First published in: 1999
This edition: Pocket Books, 1999
Cover art by Phil Heffernan
X-Ray photo used for R&R by thecameo (creative commons)
Temperance Brennan, the brilliant forensic anthropologist working in both Montreal and North-Carolina, is back in a sophomore novel (the second of many more to come). Struggling with a harsh Quebecan winter, Brennan is up to her ears in work: everything seems to be happening all at once. First, she discovers that the remains of a long ago buried nun, Elisabeth Nicolet, have been tampered with. Then, there's a student who went missing after joining a cult.
But the most gruesome discovery made by the authorities is that of a case which will probably be haunting Brennan throughout the rest of her career: a house fire, which turns out to be a case of arson to hide murders that are too cold-blooded for words… as two of the victims include infants, brutally stabbed to death prior to the fire. This part of the book will most likely haunt me, too, not just Brennan. It was that realistically described.
Reichs stays true to her profession (e.g. she's being very professional as a forensic anthropologist moonlighting as a crime author) and her feelings are transferred very well, and very realistically, to Brennan. This is Reichs telling her own story, sharing her own experiences. Brennan isn't a made-up action figure. She exists, and her feelings about injustice done to fellow human beings are wholly believable. We get to know Temperance in these books; I really like the room Reichs leaves for her character to deal with emotions involving work and her personal life.
Reichs continues to make the subject of her work very readable. It's easy to understand the forensics, and while the book is loaded (because of the infant deaths – it hit me in that place I am aware exists but try to keep hidden away, that vulnerable place), it's not like she's trying to turn this into a glorified horror story. The Temperance Brennan books, they're my guilty pleasure and very entertaining at that, but they are absolutely not about sensationalizing crime.
While Reichs does keep the forensic procedures understandable for the layman, this book's plot was chaotic in comparison with her first book. I love it when the reader is challenged into putting the pieces together, but there were just too many pieces here: a million pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, way too overwhelming with no end in sight. There were just too many victims (and confusing names!) – I kept mixing everything up and I lost track of the case(s) because too much was going on. I had to go back to earlier chapters regularly to get a quick refresher course on who this and that victim / person was again. The whole section about the nun's bones, I didn't really care for, what with the information-overload already happening in this novel.
Eventually everything came together, and it made sense, but I do feel that I missed too much. However, it must be said that I still rather have a good challenge; it beats having everything spelled out. Let us be the detective, here. Reichs allows this.
I already mentioned that we get to know Brennan. An important factor in this is a cop named Andrew Ryan, and his chemistry with Brennan. I don't always care for romantic sub-plotting in this genre, but here it just clicks:. It also offers a personal "thread" in the general series' plot, but it will also most likely bring Brennan out of her shell, thus allowing her to grow more as the series continues. Time is spent developing characters and their personalities; a good thing since we're reading a series here. It's good to be invested in the main character if you plan on reading 10+ of "their" books.
The only thing that I felt was a bit much – apart from the completely corny dialogue, at times – was introducing Tempe's sister, Harry, an erratic character and rather irritating as well. Luckily, she's but a guest star and not a permanent fixture.
Of course Brennan gets into a boatload of trouble once again (which does make the novel somewhat predictable), but she acts, and risks her life, in order to discover things. She is that passionate about justice that she's almost obsessive about seeking – and finding it. It makes her admirable, but also frustrating. (You want her to stay safe..!)
Death du Jour is better than most other thrillers, because it's authentic, and readers will be able to discern the difference between average thrillers and a book written by a professional such as Reichs. The books in the Temperance Brennan series all stand out in their genre. The second Brennan novel tends to be confusing, sure, but it also offers a very convincing glimpse into the real (and at time really horrid) world of forensics, without losing its (focus on) humanity.