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- Entertainment Weekly
"Tempe Brennan is the lab lady most likely to dethrone Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta."
— USA Today
"A brilliant novel....Fascinating science...A must-read."
- Jeffery Deaver
OK. I'm exaggerating. But it's damn close to what happened. And the final outcome was far more disturbing than any last-minute discovery of a potsherd or hearth.
It was May 18, the second-to-the-last day of the archaeological field school. I had twenty students digging a site on Dewees, a barrier island north of Charleston, South Carolina.
I also had a journalist. With the IQ of plankton.
"Sixteen bodies?" Plankton pulled a spiral notebook as his brain strobed visions of Dahmer and Bundy. "Vics ID'd?"
"The graves are prehistoric."
Two eyes rolled up, narrowed under puffy lids. "Old Indians?"
"They got me covering dead Indians?" No political correctness prize for this guy.
"The Moultrie News. The East Cooper community paper."
Charleston, as Rhett told Scarlett, is a city marked by the genial grace of days gone by. Its heart is the Peninsula, a district of antebellum homes, cobbled streets, and outdoor markets bounded by the Ashley and Cooper rivers. Charlestonians define their turf by these waterways. Neighborhoods are referred to as "West Ashley" or "East Cooper," the latterincluding Mount Pleasant, and three islands, Sullivan's, the Isle of Palms, and Dewees. I assumed plankton's paper covered that beat.
"And you are?" I asked.
With his five-o'clock shadow and fast food paunch, the guy looked more like Homer Simpson.
"We're busy here, Mr. Winborne."
Winborne ignored that. "Isn't it illegal?"
"We have a permit. The island's being developed, and this little patch is slated for home sites."
"Why bother?" Sweat soaked Winborne's hairline. When he reached for a hanky, I noticed a tick cruising his collar.
"I'm an anthropologist on faculty at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. My students and I are here at the request of the state."
Though the first bit was true, the back end was a stretch. Actually, it happened like this.
UNCC's New World archaeologist normally conducted a student excavation during the short presummer term each May. In late March of this year, the lady had announced her acceptance of a position at Purdue. Busy sending out resumes throughout the winter, she'd ignored the field school. Sayonara. No instructor. No site.
Though my specialty is forensics, and I now work with the dead sent to coroners and medical examiners, my graduate training and early professional career were devoted to the not so recently deceased. For my doctoral research I'd examined thousands of prehistoric skeletons recovered from North American burial mounds.
The field school is one of the Anthropology Department's most popular courses, and, as usual, was enrolled to capacity. My colleague's unexpected departure sent the chair into a panic. He begged that I take over. The students were counting on it! A return to my roots! Two weeks at the beach! Extra pay! I thought he was going to throw in a Buick.
I'd suggested Dan Jaffer, a bioarchaeologist and my professional counterpart with the medical examiner/coroner system in the great Palmetto State to our south. I pleaded possible cases at the ME office in Charlotte, or at the Laboratoire de sciences judiciaires et de medecine legale in Montreal, the two agencies for which I regularly consult.
The chair gave it a shot. Good idea, bad timing. Dan Jaffer was on his way to Iraq.
I'd contacted Jaffer and he'd suggested Dewees as an excavation possibility. A burial ground was slated for destruction, and he'd been trying to forestall the bulldozers until the site's significance could be ascertained. Predictably, the developer was ignoring his requests.
I'd contacted the Office of the State Archaeologist in Columbia, and on Dan's recommendation they'd accepted my offer to dig some test trenches, thereby greatly displeasing the developer.
And here I was. With twenty undergraduates. And, on our thirteenth and penultimate day, plankton-brain.
My patience was fraying like an overused rope.
"Name?" Winborne might have been asking about grass seed.
I fought back the urge to walk away. Give him what he wants, I told myself. He'll leave. Or, with luck, die from the heat.
Winborne shrugged. "Don't hear that name so much."
"I'm called Tempe."
"Like the town in Utah."
"Right. What kind of Indians?"
"How'd you know stuff was here?"
"Through a colleague at USC-Columbia."
"How'd he know?"
"He spotted small mounds while doing a survey after the news of an impending development was announced."
Winborne took a moment to make notes in his spiral. Or maybe he was buying time to come up with his idea of an insightful question. In the distance I could hear student chatter and the clatter of buckets. Overhead, a gull cawed and another answered.
"Mounds?" No one was going to short-list this guy for a Pulitzer.
"Following closure of the graves, shells and sand were heaped on top."
"What's the point in digging them up?"
That was it. I hit the little cretin with the interview terminator. Jargon.
"Burial customs aren't well known for aboriginal Southeastern coastal populations, and this site could substantiate or refute ethnohistoric accounts. Many anthropologists believe the Sewee were part of the Cusabo group. According to some sources, Cusabo funerary practices involved defleshing of the corpse, then placement of the bones in bundles or boxes. Others describe the scaffolding of bodies to allow decomposition prior to burial in common graves."
"Holy crap. That's gross."
"More so than draining the blood from a corpse and replacing it with chemical preservatives, injecting waxes and perfumes and applying makeup to simulate life, then interring in airtight coffins and vaults to forestall decay?"
Winborne looked at me as though I'd spoken Sanskrit. "Who does that?"
"So what are you finding?"
"Just bones?" The tick was now crawling up Winborne's neck. Give a heads-up? Screw it. The guy was irritating as hell.
I launched into my standard cop and coroner spiel. "The skeleton paints a story of an individual. Sex. Age. Height. Ancestry. In certain cases, medical history or manner of death." Pointedly glancing at my watch, I followed with my archaeological shtick. "Ancient bones are a source of information on extinct populations. How people lived, how they died, what they ate, what diseases they suffered -"
Winborne's gaze drifted over my shoulder. I turned.
Topher Burgess was approaching, various forms of organic and inorganic debris pasted to his sunburned torso. Short and plump, with knit cap, wire rims, and muttonchop sideburns, the kid reminded me of an undergraduate Smee.
"Odd one intruding into three-east."
I waited, but Topher didn't elaborate. Not surprising. On exams, Topher's essays often consisted of single-sentence answers. Illustrated.
"Odd?" I coaxed.
A complete sentence. Gratifying, but not enlightening. I curled my fingers in a "give me more" gesture.
"We're thinking intrusive." Topher shifted his weight from one bare foot to another. It was a lot to shift.
"I'll check it out in a minute."
Topher nodded, turned, and trudged back to the excavation.
"What's that mean, 'articulated'?" The tick had reached Winborne's ear and appeared to be considering alternate routes.
"In proper anatomical alignment. It's uncommon with secondary burials, corpses put into the ground after loss of the flesh. The bones are usually jumbled, sometimes in clumps. Occasionally in these communal graves one or two skeletons will be articulated."
"Could be a lot of reasons. Maybe someone died immediately before closure of a common pit. Maybe the group was moving on, didn't have time to wait out decomposition."
A full ten seconds of scribbling, during which the tick moved out of sight.
"Intrusive. What's that mean?"
"A body was placed in the grave later. Would you like a closer look?"
"It's what I'm living for." Putting hanky to forehead, Winborne sighed as if he were onstage.
I crumbled. "There's a tick in your collar."
Winborne moved faster than it seemed possible for a man of his bulk to move, yanking his collar, doubling over, and batting his neck in one jerk. The tick flew to the sand and righted itself, apparently used to rejection.
I set off, skirting clusters of sea oats, their tasseled heads motionless in the heavy air. Only May, and already the mercury was hitting ninety. Though I love the Lowcountry, I was glad I wouldn't be digging here into the summer.
I moved quickly, knowing Winborne wouldn't keep up. Mean? Yes. But time was short. I had none to waste on a dullard reporter.
And I was conscience-clear on the tick.
Some student's boom-box pounded out a tune I didn't recognize by a group whose name I didn't know and wouldn't remember if told. I'd have preferred seabirds and surf, though today's selections were better than the heavy metal the kids usually blasted.
Waiting for Winborne, I scanned the excavation. Two test trenches had already been dug and refilled. The first had yielded nothing but sterile soil. The second had produced human bone, early vindication of Jaffer's suspicions.
Three other trenches were still open. At each, students worked trowels, hauled buckets, and sifted earth through mesh screens resting on sawhorse supports.
Topher was shooting pictures at the easternmost trench. The rest of his team sat cross-legged, eyeing the focus of his interest.
Winborne joined me on the cusp between panting and gasping. Mopping his forehead, he fought for breath.
"Hot day," I said.
Winborne nodded, face the color of raspberry sherbet.
I was moving toward Topher when Winborne's voice stopped me.
"We got company."
Turning, I saw a man in a pink Polo shirt and khaki pants hurrying across, not around, the dunes. He was small, almost child-size, with silver-gray hair buzzed to the scalp. I recognized him instantly. Richard L. "Dickie" Dupree, entrepreneur, developer, and all-around sleaze.
Dupree was accompanied by a basset whose tongue and belly barely cleared the ground.
First a journalist, now Dupree. This day was definitely heading for the scrap heap.
Ignoring Winborne, Dupree bore down on me with the determined self-righteousness of a Taliban mullah. The basset hung back to squirt a clump of sea oats.
We've all heard of personal space, that blanket of nothing we need between ourselves and others. For me, the zone is eighteen inches. Break in, I get edgy.
Some strangers crowd up close because of vision or hearing. Others, because of differing cultural mores. Not Dickie. Dupree believed nearness lent him greater force of expression.
Stopping a foot from my face, Dupree crossed his arms and squinted up into my eyes.
"Y'all be finishing tomorrow, I expect." More statement than question.
"We will." I stepped back.
"And then?" Dupree's face was birdlike, the bones sharp under pink, translucent skin.
"I'll file a preliminary report with the Office of the State Archaeologist next week."
The basset wandered over and started sniffing my leg. It looked to be at least eighty years old.
"Colonel, don't be rude with the little lady." To me. "Colonel's getting on. Forgets his manners."
The little lady scratched Colonel behind one mangy ear.
"Shame to disappoint folks because of a buncha ole Indians." Dupree smiled what he no doubt considered his "Southern gentleman" smile. Probably practiced it in the mirror while clipping his nose hairs.
"Many view this country's heritage as something valuable," I said.
"Can't let these things stop progress, though, can we?"
I did not reply.
"You do understand my position, ma'am?"
"Yes, sir. I do."
I abhorred Dupree's position. His goal was money, earned by any means that wouldn't get him indicted. Screw the rain forest, the wetlands, the seashore, the dunes, the culture that was here when the English arrived. Dickie Dupree would implode the Temple of Artemis if it stood where he wanted to slap up condos.
Behind us, Winborne had gone still. I knew he was listening.
"And what might this fine document say?" Another Sheriff of Mayberry smile.
"That this area is underlain by a pre-Columbian burial ground."
Dupree's smile wavered, held. Sensing tension, or perhaps bored, Colonel abandoned me for Winborne. I wiped my hand on my cutoffs.
"You know those folks up in Columbia well as I do. A report of that nature will shut me down for some time. That delay will cost me money."
"An archaeological site is a nonrenewable cultural resource. Once it's gone, it's gone forever. I can't in good conscience allow your needs to influence my findings, Mr. Dupree."
The smile dissolved, and Dupree eyed me coldly.
"We'll just have to see about that." The veiled threat was little softened by the gentle, Lowcountry drawl.
"Yes, sir. We will."
Pulling a pack of Kools from his pocket, Dupree cupped a hand and lit up. Chucking the match, he drew deeply, nodded, and started back toward the dunes, Colonel waddling at his heels.
"Mr. Dupree," I called after him.
Dupree stopped, but didn't turn to face me.
"It's environmentally irresponsible to walk on dunes."
Flicking a wave, Dupree continued on his way.
Anger and loathing rose in my chest.
"Dickie not your choice for Man of the Year?"
I turned. Winborne was unwrapping a stick of Juicy Fruit. I watched him put the gum in his mouth, daring with my eyes that he toss the paper as Dupree had tossed his match.
He got the message.
Wordlessly, I hooked a one-eighty and walked to three-east. I could hear Winborne scrabbling along behind me.
The students fell silent when I joined them. Eight eyes followed as I hopped down into the trench. Topher handed me a trowel. I squatted, and was enveloped by the smell of freshly turned earth.
And something else. Sweet. Fetid. Faint, but undeniable.
An odor that shouldn't be there.
My stomach tightened.
Dropping to all fours, I examined Topher's oddity, a segment of vertebral column curving outward from halfway up the western wall.
Above me, students threw out explanations.
"We were cleaning up the sides, you know, so we could, like, take photos of the stratigraphy."
"We spotted stained soil."
Topher added some brief detail.
I wasn't listening. I was troweling, creating a profile view of the burial lying to the west of the trench. With each scrape my apprehension was heading north.
Thirty minutes of work revealed a spine and upper pelvic rim.
I sat back, a tingle of dread crawling my scalp.
The bones were connected by muscle and ligament.
As I stared, the first fly buzzed in, sun iridescent on its emerald body.
Rising, I brushed dirt from my knees. I had to get to a phone.
Dickie Dupree had a lot more to worry about than the ancient Sewee.
Excerpted from Break No Bones by Kathy Reichs Copyright © 2006 by Temperance Brennan, L.P.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted August 30, 2006
I just don't get the Kathy Reichs books. Her background info for her stories is terrific but her characters are so shallow. And why oh why is Temperence always so angry and irritable?? She's annoying and hard to like which makes these books a little hard to read.
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Posted December 9, 2008
Tempe Brennan is on an archeological dig on Dewees Island off the coast of Charlottesville, South Carolina when she finds a recently dead person buried amidst the prehistoric site. The coroner is ailing so Tempe performs the autopsy and discovers a fracture of the sixth cervical vertebrae. Tempe is staying at the home of a friend who also invites her estranged husband Pete to reside there while he is on a case for a client.------------ Pete¿s client wants to know whether his contributions to God¿s Mercy Church are being used properly and if the sleuth can learn the whereabouts of his missing daughter Helene, who disappeared just after she accused the church¿s free clinic of financial wrongdoing. A previously hired private detective Noble Cruickshank also vanished without a trace. However, a body found in a wooded area is thought to be the missing Noble, who has the same trauma injury as the corpse found in the dig site. A third body with the same fracture is uncovered. Tempe learns that Noble was looking into the disappearances of many Charlottesville fringe people who lived beneath the societal radar screen as she seeks the motive linking three homicides.------------------ Anyone who loves the works of Patricia Cornwell or Linda Fairstein will thoroughly enjoy BREAK NO bones and for that matter Kathy Reichs¿ backlist. The plucky obstinate heroine leaves no stone (or bone) unturned as she seeks answers even law enforcement turns to her to help them solve the homicides. Ms. Reichs is a wonderful mystery writer whose champion is likable and admirable as she seeks the truth.-------------- Harriet Klausner
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Posted January 23, 2015
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Posted July 24, 2010
If you have read Kathy Reichs' other books, then reading this one should not be a question. This story is definitely one that kept me guessing with a twist at the end. I enjoyed learning more about Temperance's personal development, and her romantic involvement with her estranged husband and lover Ryan. Looking forward to reading another one by Reichs.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
This book was very good as always. The plot was a very good. I liked the part where Temperance had to deal with Ryan and Pete at the same time, that was very entertaining. I recommend this book to anyone who likes murder and mystery or even just those CSI TV shows.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 22, 2009
I Also Recommend:
The Temperance Brennan series takes CSI and Cromwell to a different level. For all of those who have watched the hit TV series "Bones," the books are much more entertaining than the show. Though characters from the show are absent, Reichs takes Brennan's stories to all new frontiers. In the ninth installment, Brennan has to solve a strange case of connected murders while battling against her romances between her ex and a handsome detective. The stories are well-written and Brennan's social life and work life collide to give the reader a beautiful fullfilling feeling.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 30, 2009
Kathy Reich's writing and characters are much better and more exciting than Patricai Cornwell's. Kathy's books are hard to put down once you start. She provides a very good level of detail reality.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 28, 2009
I definitely enjoyed this book, but I can't say that it is my favorite book in the world. I haven't read all of the other books, only a couple of them and I do think that this is one of the good ones. It kept my attention throughout and there wasn't any part where I put down the book to pick up another.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 17, 2008
I've read all of Kathy Reichs Temperance Brennan Novels (With an exception to Bones to Ashes which I am reading now), and I have to say she is an excellent writer, with interesting characters and pretty well thought up plots. She can be a very informational writer which is what I like in a book. Although this book wasn't as super informational as usual, I actually thought it is one of here better books. I really did enjoy it. I recomend you read the rest of the series first, starting with Deja Dead (I love that book!) Break No Bones is an excellent novel that I feel is a good read for a rainy day, or even a nice boring sunny day. It will liven up your day and give you a good reason to read!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 11, 2008
These books are okay but I can't imagine why she doesn't use the TV characters. They are so much more interesting!! Don't think I'll buy any more of her books till she does!!! Anybody else feel this way? Does she even read reviews from her readers like us??? Disappointed in NV!
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Posted August 7, 2007
I have rarely liked a novel less than its tv or movie adaptation, but this is an exception. I listened to the audio version read by Dorothea Berryman, which definitely added to my dislike. Ms. Berryman read almost all Tempe's narration in a husky whisper, as if everything was climactic. I thought I was listening to a Marilyn Monroe sound-alike. The conversations sounded unnatural, the men's voices sounded forced, the southern accents were unbelievable. Emma sounded like a Scarlet wannabe. As for the novel itself- I expected more scientific and forensic facts from a forensic anthropologist very disappointing. A similar plot was better handled by Tess Gerritsen in Harvest. I think I'll stick with her novels. I wonder if Barbara Rosenblatt's narration of Break No Bones is more enjoyable.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 15, 2006
I've read every Kathy Reichs book and have loved them all, but it is time Tempe divorce Pete or move back in with him. They have been separated, for what, 10 years now???? Come on, Kathy, let's poop or get off the pot.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 11, 2006
The mysteries of this series are well written and full of useful and educational trivia - Reichs writes about what she knows since, as her heroine Tempe Brennan, she is a forensic anthropologist who splits her time between North Carolina and Quebec. In this latest installment, Tempe is leading a summer archaeological field dig off the coast of South Carolina for graduate students when they discover a skeleton that shouldn't be a part of the prehistoric site. The local coroner, Emma, is a friend and asks Tempe to help out with the investigation. During her exam of the skeleton Tempe discovers a unilateral fracture of the sixth cervical vertebrae that she cannot explain. When another body is found hanging from a tree, Tempe fills in for Emma again and discovers a similar fracture. In parallel Tempe's estranged husband arrives to stay at the same house as where she is staying for the summer. Pete is a lawyer looking into the accounts of a Church on behalf of a client who has also asked him to locate his missing daughter, Helen. Helen disappeared after accusing the Church of mis-allocating funds to their free clinic. A local P.I. was looking for her but he too has disappeared without a trace, until Tempe identifies his as one of the three bodies found. All three skeletons bear the same strange unilateral fracture. When Tempe discovers that the missing P.I. was investigating unsolved missing persons reports she follows the links and discovers that everything leads back to the free clinic. All of the missing persons visited the clinic, all were marginal to society and all have disappeared. Now she only has to figure out who and why while dealing with her feelings for her ex-husband and for Ryan, a colleague from Quebec who is more than a colleague and comes to visit. And also while trying to figure out who may or may not be trying to harm her. With well-balanced dialogue and well-developed characters, Break no Bones is one of the better volumes of this series even if the motive/plot is easy to guess. the complexity of characters and the dialogue are great.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 21, 2006
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