A while back my wife became entranced with the TV series Bones. I was less entranced, but found it bearable so sat through it for the sake of togetherness. I never put much stock in what I judged to be the pseudo-science of forensic anthropology because there were so many slam-bang-gee-whiz episodes based on what seemed to be no more scientific divination of the inner self than went into casting the I Ching. My first hint that there might be something to all this was Michael Ondaa
tje’s Skin of the Lion, which I reviewed last year)January 26, 2009
. The protagonist’s task in that novel is to ID bodies of mass-grave victims (Sri Lankan) mostly from examining their skeletons. Hmmm. If Ondaatje says so, then maybe…
This summer, we visited DC and came across a lecture at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History on forensic anthropology. The scientists had taken a couple of skeletons exhumed at a construction site near Chesapeake Bay, and by analyzing various bone characteristics–diet, size, weight, sex, etc.–along with other surrounding evidence of land ownership, etc., had determined the exact identity of the seventeenth-century husband and wife who had once owned the bones. The scientists hadn’t done it in an hour the way the TV people do it. Took them four years, but they’d done it. Now I’ve new respect for the whole idea, even if some would call it a waste of tax money. But those same would call anything beyond guarding the borders and delivering the mail a waste of tax money.
Kathy Reichs is the inventor of Temperance Brennan, the lead character in her novels. She is a forensic anthropologist herself (splits her time between Montreal and Charlotte, NC), as well as producer of the TV show. Beaucoup bucks for sure, but I don’t begrudger her at all. The nearest kin I know of to her work is that of Patricia Cornwell, whose writing I also admire. But I have to give the nod to Cornwell for depth, even though her character, Kay Scarpetta, is an ME, not a forensic anthropologist.
206 Bones was a perfect antidote for me after all those hours of slogging through Foote’s Civil War Opus (See commentary Oct. 11, 2010). A captivating detective novel with enough plot turns to keep you interested, but not so many as to confuse and overwork the old thinker. Temperance keeps a couple of beaux chasing her, gives them enough encouragement to keep trying but not enough to invite commitment. She’s got a cold and brusque side to her character that gets her in a lot of trouble, but her brains and determination win out in the end. All pretty standard crime novel fare, but well-packaged, diverting, and undemanding. And you’ll probably learn a thing or two about teeth.