Pocket, 2000, 368 pages, C$10.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-671-02836-7
Another year, another Kathy Reichs novel.
Even before opening the book, I knew what to expect. Cue a premise stolen from Québec’s newspapers. Cue Temperance Brenner, champ forensic pathologist, suckiest character judge ever. Cue one of her relatives conjured out of thin air, visiting Montréal just in time to get killed, brainwashed, kidnapped or otherwise hurt by Brennan’s latest cause du jour. Cue plot “twists” that are blindingly obvious to everyone but Brennan, self-imposed gratuitously dangerous situations, silly coincidences and implausible links between characters and the case.
After riffing off the sordid “Temple de l’ordre solaire” sect case that so dominated Québec news for a while in Death du Jour, Reichs here takes on the biker gang wars that ripped through the province in the late nineties. It is, granted, a solid premise: In real-life, the gang wars left behind dozens of dead bikers, taking with them a few innocent victims that happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong moment. (Indeed, most Quebec criminal statistics include a little asterisk during the late nineties specifically excluding biker-related violent deaths)
From the first few pages, it’s obvious that Reichs is once again liberally borrowing from headlines: The first few pages describe how a little girl is brought in for autopsy, an unfortunate victim of a misguided shooting. The novel even explicitly refer to the famous real-life 1995 Fontaine murder, in which a young boy had died as he was bicycling near a car that had been wired to explode on ignition. [P.28]
That’s the first of Reich’s many, many tics that pop up in this novel. This time, it’s her nephew who comes up north for a visit, arriving just in time to be befriended by the bad guys and dragged to the finale’s bloody shootout. Oh well. There’s also a “plot twist” involving a biker mole that anyone with half a brain can see coming as soon as the mole is ominously introduced. There are awful coincidences in which parts of a victim are to be found not only in Montréal -the series’ main location- but also in North Carolina, from where -surprise!- Brennan just happens to be.
I wouldn’t mind if that only happened once in a while. But this is Reich’s third novel, and the silly coincidences involving members of her family and/or North Carolina are already becoming a regular occurrence. And I still haven’t mentioned the usual stooopid scene in which Brennan does something completely moronic (and out of character) in order to advance the plot. (In this case, she jogs to a biker bar.)
After my kvetching, you’d be justified in asking why I keep reading her darn novels even as they evidently annoy me so much. The answer is, of course, that Brennan’s stuff all takes place in Montréal against a predominantly French-Canadian background. Whether her usual shtick drives me nuts or not is mitigated by seeing a major mystery series taking place in my backyard, so to speak. In Deadly Décisions, I was occasionally able to picture exactly where Brennan was, based on my visits at these places. This outsider’s view on Québec is one of the main draw of the series for me, despite everything else.
It helps, of course, that for all her faults, Reichs writes books with a definite narrative drive. However easy and cheap some of her plot shortcuts may be, there is a real desire to read forward late in the night. That, by itself, is more important than densely plotted novels about which I couldn’t care less. Plus, the technical details are a lot of fun for Hard-SF/techno-thriller fans like me. Am I waiting for Reich’s next novel? Well, of course I am.