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Book Review

Fatal Voyage by Kathy Reichs - Book Review

Title
Author
Publisher

Fatal Voyage
Kathy Reichs
William Heinemann

Fiction-Net Rating 3 Star Rated Book

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Cover Story

A plane crashes in the mountains of North Carolina and forensic scientist Tempe Brennan undertakes routine identification of the victims. With the discovery of a severed foot well away from the main site, Brennan fears that, apart from the air tragedy, another corpse lies hidden somewhere.

We Say

Kathy Reichs' first novel 'Deja Dead' was sold on the premise 'better than Patricia Cornwell or your money back." At that point I'd read all of Cornwell's Scarpetta series and thought I'd see if she lived up to the marketing slogan. I didn't ask for my money back. Not because I thought she was better than Cornwell because I saw the potential of Kathy Reichs and her principal character, Tempe Brennan. Fatal Voyage is Reich's fourth novel featuring Brennan and I'm sticking with her to see what happens.

There is no doubt that Kathy Reich knows her subject matter. She should - as it informs on the dust jacket of Fatal Voyage. The author is one of only fifty forensic anthropologists certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology. On occasion, I feel she provides too much detail. The research she does for her books is extremely in-depth and this comes over sometimes to the detriment of the story. There are large passages of text, which I skipped because frankly science was never a strength and even when broken down into layman's terms I was still a little lost. This section refers to a soil sample being analysed.

"There's little change in VFAs in a fresh corpse. In the second stage, a body bloats due to anaerobic fermentation, primarily in the gut. This causes skin breakage and the leakage of fermentation by-products rich in butyric acids. Butyric acids? Volatile fatty acids include forty-one different organic compounds, of which butyric acid is one. Butyric, formic, acetic, propionic, valeric, caproic and hetanoic are detectable in soil solution because they are soluble in water."

There are clearly things we need to know for the story to make sense, there are other things I would rather not have found out ever and then there seem to be details included just so we know how much research the author has done and how much she knows.

"When magnified and viewed under polarized light, osteons resemble tiny volcanoes, ovoid cones with central craters and flanks that spread out to flatlands of primary bone. The number of volcanoes increases with age, as does the count of abandoned calderas. By determining the density of these features one arrives at an age estimate."

Perhaps some of my sensitivity to the amount of detail in Fatal Voyage came from recent tragic world events, which Reichs could not have foreseen as coinciding with the UK release of her book. The novel opens with a plane crash and Brennan describing what she sees on arrival at the scene. We are then taken through the procedures the different agencies undertake to discover what happened. Obviously my mind strayed to real life.

What is different about this book is that at last I feel I am getting to know Temperance Brennan a little better. The character seems finally to be becoming more rounded and real, not just the one-dimensional side - the forensic anthropologist. As Brennan's professional standing is threatened by a complaint and she feels she is being made the scapegoat of the investigation, we can feel her anger, her pain, her fears and worries. She is even funny. Reichs appears to be allowing her character leeway to develop and in the process she herself is relaxing and Tempe becomes more human.

The story is at times predicable and I spotted the 'main perpetrators' as they were introduced, nevertheless the writing is strong enough to hold and maintain interest until the conclusion. The potential remains marked and I'll be back for number five.

Review by: Susan Miller

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