It's been almost a year and a half since I started blogging on Dead Guy but I recognize now that my exploration of the mystery genre can best be described as haphazard. Rather than attempting a systematic sampling of the various subgenres, I more or less just jumped right in, picking books to read or listen to mostly based either on their availability in my library, author name recognition or, to a lesser extent, reviews and word of mouth; this is not unlike the way many of my library patrons go about choosing what books they're going to read or listen to next. The problem with this approach was that I encountered a disproportionate number of books that I wasn't crazy about early on which caused me to draw the premature conclusion that I really wasn't cut out to be a reader of crime fiction.
Fortunately, I have had time on my side. Although the mystery novels I have read or listened to and which I did not care for tended to annoy the hell out of me, I have also encountered enough good crime fiction that I think I now have a pretty good sense of what is going to appeal to me:
1. Protagonists who are female, work in law enforcement and who are not extremely beautiful, rich or quirky - in other words, people who have the characteristics of actual people who I might come across in real life. I don't like reading about someone who is so fabulous that it just makes me feel bad about myself.
2. A focus on forensic details plays into my real life curiosity about police work and how evidence is used to solve crimes.
3. Since my taste in general fiction tends toward the dark anyway, it's not surprising that I gravitate toward stories that are set in ghetto neighborhoods rather than on cruise ships, mansions or any place else where the rich and famous congregate.
4. The author must do a superior job of plotting the mystery - if not, I am going to feel let down no matter how much I enjoyed enjoyed the setting, characters, or the author's use of language.
5. I enjoy stories that shine a light on the fact that police work, like most other jobs, requires that people deal with coworkers and supervisors who may either unwittingly or deliberately stand in the way of getting the job done properly.
Which brings me to 206 Bones, by Kathy Reichs. This novel not only has all of the above ingredients, but it is also one of the most masterfully plotted examples of crime fiction that I have yet encountered. Part of a series centered on forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan, 206 Bones presents us with no fewer than nine sets of skeletal remains for Tempe to sort through and yet I had no trouble keeping track, not only of all these vics, but also of the fairly sizable cast of suspects and law enforcement officials who Tempe also has to deal with. Spicing things up a bit is the fact that Tempe must also work on these cases with an ex-boyfriend police lieutenant who is persistently trying to get himself back into Tempe's good graces as well as her bed. There's also the matter of figuring out who beat up Tempe, tied her up and buried her alive; this is the situation she finds herself in at the start of the book.
Other things I liked about 206 Bones:
1. I never felt like I was missing out on anything even though I had not read any of the earlier titles in the series.
2. I enjoyed the Montreal setting and the fact that most of the characters were bilingual made for some entertainingly colorful use of language.
3. The characters came across as real people.
4. Forensic anthropology is really interesting to read about even though I have absolutely no desire to ever be within 100 feet of a post mortem procedure in real life. At times it felt like Reichs was giving a little mini class and that was just fine with me.
5. The revelation of the identity of one of the perpertrators came as a real surprise.
At one point toward the end of the novel, Reichs gets on her soapbox about the importance of professional certifications; she is to be forgiven for this because, according to her website, she is one of only 82 individuals to ever have received certification from the American Board of Forensic Anthropology. It is no wonder that she can write about this arcane topic so well.
No, I never watched the television show Bones which is based on Reich's Temperance Brennan character, but I think I may have to start.