206 Bones, By Kathy Reichs

Skilful anatomy of murder

Kathy Reichs has three careers: top-flight crime writer, producer of the TV series Bones, which draws on her own expertise in the forensic field working for the Chief Medical Examiner of North Carolina, her third career. When she tells us that there are 206 bones in the human body, who's to argue? Webster's "skull beneath the skin" is the leitmotiv of all her work, but particularly so in this new book, which begins with her protagonist Temperance Brennan waking up, disoriented, in pain and with her feet bound to her hands.

Tempe is in a claustrophobic, enclosed space, and forces herself to remember what she has been doing – accompanying the newly discovered remains of an heiress to a morgue in Chicago. She has been accused of malpractice, and a man is dead who knew something about the accusing phone call. It's as arresting an opening as Reichs has given us, and a salutary reminder that the author's recent run-throughs of familiar themes are firmly behind her.

As debut thrillers go, her Déjà Dead in 1997 detonated with the force of an incendiary device. Reichs's portrayal of her contrary heroine had total authority, and Tempe is a woman always driven to extremes to prove herself (one of several understated feminist points in Reichs's work – the author would clearly demur from the notion of women being given jobs solely on the basis of sexual quotas).

If Reichs's admirers expressed disappointment with some recent novels it was possibly because Brennan's investigations seemed a touch predictable, and the things that made the series so pleasurable (the fractious internal politics of a police division; Tempe wreaking havoc with protocol) were handled with less dexterity. But Reichs has reasserted her supremacy in the field, and has stripped out any sense of cliché. All the things we read her for in those heady early days are back in force. 206 Bones – with its fresh plot involving the discarded bodies of dead women, and Tempe's own niggling self-doubt – is vintage Reichs.

Published by Heinemann, £18.99

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