Assaulted by the bitter cold of a Montreal winter, the American-born Dr. Temperance Breman, Forensic Anthropologist for the Province of Quebec, digs for a corpse where Sister Elisabeth Nicolet, dead over a century and now a candidate for sainthood, should lie in her grave. A strange, small coffin, buried in the recesses of a decaying church, holds the first clue to the cloistered nun’s fate. The puzzle surrounding Sister Elisabeth’s life and death provides a welcome contrast to discoveries at a burning chalet, where scorched and twisted bodies await Tempe’s professional expertise. Who were these people? What brought them to this gruesome fate? Homicide Detective Andrew Ryan, with whom Tempe has a combustive history, joins her in the arson investigation. From the fire scene they are drawn into the worlds of an enigmatic and controversial professor, a mysterious commune, and a primate colony on a Carolina island.
This novel was a confusing mess. Temperance begins searching for the remains of a woman who may be up for sainthood and is then sucked into the mystery of why an entire family and their murders went up in smoke. Tempe also has to deal with her flighty sister who is determined to put the moves on Detective Ryan.
First off, there are a lot of layers going on. Temperance’s life was very flat and dull in the first novel and now she’s being pulled between two countries, a series of murders, a cult, her growing interest in Detective Ryan, and the search for the history of a potential saint. It’s not layered well and I felt the search for the truth about Sister Elisabeth Nicolet’s origins, was thrown in last minute as filler. It didn’t seem to match the tone of the novel and it wasn’t even concluded in a manner that was sensible.
In the first novel, I had wished for more depth in Temperance character. However, reading about a middle age woman constantly discussing her thongs is a bit off putting. It almost feels as if the author was trying too hard to be relevant in 2000, when the book was first published. Despite that, I enjoyed seeing the character having emotional responses to her sister’s sudden visit, her jealousy and desire for Detective Ryan, and even for spending quality time with her daughter.
The story’s progression was a bit jumpy and at times, it felt as if several short stories were being combined into one novel. It lacked cohesion and I’m not sure if I’m enjoying the series as a whole. Perhaps my judgment is clouded by my exposure to the show, but I’ve read enough novels that have been turned into a movie or show to understand there are going to be different reactions to each medium. However, it’s very clear the show is loosely based off of the books.
I’m still not invested in Temperance or this series. While there were finally moments when she could relax and have a few normal interactions with others, she is a very lonely character. The author needs to work on character development and potentially introduce companion characters that can help make the character more likable to the audience. She also needs to quit using so much figurative language in her writing. Her first book was jam packed with similes and this one was overflowing with metaphors. A decent editor would have pointed out the many plot holes and jumps. So I’m left wondering why this storyline is such a hot mess. This is only the second book in this series and I’m not impressed.
Reviewer’s note: I was a fan of the hit show Bones for the entirety of its run. While the show is “based” on this book series, I recognize that it’s not really that connected. I will try to refrain from comparing the two and enjoy this book series on its own merits.