Kathy Reichs publishers' comparisons of her with the mega-selling Patricia Cornwell are based on the fact that more and more people (readers, critics, other writers) are calling her better than Cornwell! On the evidence of Reichs' splendid new novel, Grave Secrets the answer is yes--particularly as several recent Cornwell titles have been misfires.
Reichs' speciality is the powerfully realised female protagonist: Dr Temperance Brennan is the best of the many forensic specialists rubbing shoulders in the genre at present: she's professional (never, of course, fazed by her often grisly work), forceful in everything but her messy private life. This time, Tempe travels to the Guatemalan village of Chupan Ya tracking the bodies of 23 women and children dumped in a mass grave. But while digging in the pit of death, Tempe finds the present contains further horrors: four girls have gone missing from Guatemala city--and one of them is the daughter of an ambassador. Soon Tempe is up against both a recalcitrant district attorney and municipal corruption, grimly aware that there are those who want the deaths in both the past and the present to remain a mystery.
What makes this such a distinguished addition to the Reichs library (in a class with such winners as Death du Jour) is the brilliantly realised Guatemalan locales. Not many thriller writers can evoke comparison with such masters of foreign climes as Graham Greene, but Reichs pulls it off with aplomb. The web of deceit that Dr Brennan encounters is satisfyingly tangled, and the unravelling of the mystery has all the quirky energy of Reichs at her most stylish. Perhaps future Brennan outings will have to bring in new personal elements for the heroine to avoid staleness, but Grave Secrets has everything in place for the most diverting of reading experiences. --Barry Forshaw