Déjà Dead

Déjà Dead by Kathy Reichs9780671011369

publication date: 1997
pages: 612
ISBN: 978-1-5011-2211-8

The main character of Déjà Dead, Temperance Brennan, was perhaps more famous in her iteration as a character on the TV show Bones. According to author Kathy Reichs, the Temperance Brennan in the books was not the same as in the TV show, although both were based on Reichs herself.

In Déjà Dead, Temperance was an American working in Montreal, Canada, as a forensic anthropologist for the police force. As a forensic anthropologist, she mainly investigated dead bodies sent to the police – especially bodies decomposed to the point where only the bones remained. At the start of the book, Brennan investigated a body found in a garbage bag that spawned a search for a killer. Along the way, Temperance encountered the recalcitrant and obnoxious Detective Claudel. She also juggled a wayward adolescent daughter and a flighty best friend.

The book certainly took its focus on dead bodies and gore very seriously. Almost every page contained a passage like this (I literally opened the book at random to a page with this passage):

Fifteen yards from the corpse I no longer need a guide. Blending with the loamy scent of woods and sunlight I detected the unmistakable smell of death. The odor of decomposing flesh is like no other, and it hung there in the warm afternoon air, faint but undeniable. Step by step, the sweet, fetid stench grew stronger, building in intensity like the whine of a locust, until it ceased blending, and overpowered all other smells. The aromas of moss and humus and pine and sky deferred to the rankness of rotting flesh.

Although I often read books at lunch, I tried that with this book a few times but the graphic descriptions of the subject matter meant I preferred to eat with nothingness than with Déjà Dead.

Not only could this book be graphic, it could also be very bleak. Brennan sometimes had an especially bleak view of the humanity surrounding her. For example, this was her description of a group of prostitutes she encountered:

Then there were those who’d managed to grow old. Only the truly canny and exceptionally strong had prospered and gotten out. The ill and weak were dead. The strong-bodied but weak-willed endured. They saw the future, and accepted it. They would die in the streets because they knew nothing else. Or because they loved or feared some man enough to peddle ass to buy his dope. Or because they needed food to eat and a place to sleep.

Although the book was graphic and bleak at times, it was a pretty fast read. The last third, especially, was suspenseful and compelling.

I am generally not a fan of the crime thriller, but for those who are, the fierce heroine and forensic aspects of Déjà Dead make for an interesting addition to the genre.

3/6: more good than bad

Other reviews of Déjà Dead: 

The Guardian
Book Reporter

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