Review: Spider Bones by Kathy Reichs

How did I get it:
The library.

Why did I get it: It’s more like why did I read it, but either way… I am a glutton for punishment. That’s the only explanation I have.

How I would rate it: 1 out of 5 stars. I thought about handing out 2 stars, but it doesn’t deserve them.

My Summary: John Lowery died in 1968 in a helicopter crash, but when his body shows up in Quebec in 2010, it becomes obvious that something went wrong. Then two other bodies are found that may or may not also be John Charles “Spider” Lowery. So who is Lowery? How many Loweries are there, and who are these other two people if they aren’t Spider Lowery? And some people may or may not have gotten mauled by a shark. Looks like it’s another set of cases for Temperance Brennan as she heads off to Hawaii.

My Review: (Warning: Anger and sarcasm ahoy! Spoilers dead ahead! If you liked this book, turn back now or don’t say you were not warned.)

For the life of me, I cannot recall reading another book that has ever made me this angry. Normally I have the good sense to walk away from books that eventually make me feel like foaming at the mouth, but the fact is I like Ryan. For the most part, I liked all of the characters in this book outside of Temperance Brennan.

I feel that I have a right to complain since I wasted more than 10 hours of my life on this audio book. I would like to think doing so served some purpose if only because this review might prevent people from making the same mistake and checking out this book. I thought Wanna Get Lucky? was insulting to my intelligence on occasion, but Spider Bones is insulting on nearly every single page. Temperance Brennan had no business lecturing the reader on ANYTHING when if she had spent less time ignoring every single clue she was handed and more time THINKING? She would have wrapped up this case in a matter of hours.

But instead of the book just allowing for multiple interesting cases, several very simple ones got stretched out for over 100 pages.  I spent most of my listening time being lectured on Vietnam, sections of Hawaii, gangs and everything under the sun that isn’t tree-related since apparently Temperance knows everything except how to tell if a tree is a Baobob or not and how to play nice with others. Instead of thinking with that theoretically large brain of hers, Brennan lectured to the point where even other characters noticed and grimaced.

I seriously felt like some sections of this book were either taken directly from Wikipedia or that I had stumbled into one of those The More You Know shorts. The ones that end with this:

Sadly there was never a rainbow in sight just more Temperance being smug and then dumbing things down for cops.

Words cannot fully describe how much I currently loathe Temperance Brennan after continually spending time in her fictional prescence, but I’m going to try to find some.

As I’ve noted several times, I am a very character-driven reader. I don’t care about police procedure being captured correctly or every single detail involved in cleaning a skeleton by the book if the character involved is horrible. I also don’t like it when smart characters don’t think and then go about assuming no one else does. I don’t need every character to have a heart of gold. I am very fond of serial killer fiction, and I love anti-heroes, but I need them to have a purpose or at least to be fun to read about.

As a grumpy-natured person myself, I’m fond of snarky banter and snarly protagonists. That said, if a character has to be grumpy, they need to either be an old country doctor like Leonard McCoy or they need to have a motivation for being horrible such as being turned into a fish for a few decades like October Daye from Rue & Rosemary (an actual good book I’m also currently reading), or their whole family dying in front of them like Frank Castle aka the Punisher.

Temperance Brennan has no reason to be the awful way she is throughout her series, but especially throughout this book. She has an ideal life, a great career, ideal friends, a loving daughter, loving exes, guys all but fighting over her, kind people who know her in every part of the United States and Canada, and she gets PAID to go work in Hawaii. She has no excuse to be horrible to anyone. There is no reason for her to have the emotional range or maturity of a two year old let alone the attention span of one.

And, in all honesty, I liked Brennan for awhile in an earlier book, and since then I haven’t really liked her much, but it is only recently that I’ve found myself wondering why she didn’t end up being thrown into a volcano by the end of her Hawaiian experience. I truly wish I was exaggerating when I told you that I honestly think Tempe is the least empathetic or sympathetic character I have ever encountered.

First of all, I really didn’t like that Temperance doesn’t think in anything approaching a logical fashion because if she did, the book would have ended by Chapter 10 if not sooner. She never asks questions when a person would want to ask questions. She never gives answers when a person ought to give answers. She only thinks about them later when she has time to replay conversations in her mind or when it’s well past the point of wondering about things that happened less than a week ago.

I mean… If someone told you that their dead son had a twin brother and an identical cousin, wouldn’t you wonder about that from time to time? If no medical charts were found and the only difference between the cousin and the dead son was their eye color, wouldn’t you wonder what color eyes the dead person had? If you knew a lot about Vietnam and found a body of a soldier who allegedly died in the conflict in Canada, wouldn’t you think about draft dodgers? If someone’s dog tags were on the wrong body, wouldn’t you wonder how they got there? Wouldn’t you wonder if they’d been planted by the person who actually owned the dog tags? Wouldn’t you think that maybe something suspicious had occured when the body was found lying in the middle of the jungle?

Reichs seems to think her character, like herself, is brilliant, but I beg to differ. I knew exactly what would wind up happening by the beginning of the book and it was bizarre to me that even after listening for more than a week, I remembered more about this case than the characters in it. And even when things got figured out, Temperance had to spout more Wikipedia-styled mumbo jumbo. She does so with great confidence and authority but I don’t know that I believe a lot of what Tempe shares any more than I believe in Reichs possessing expert knowledge of military history or terms.

I’m also not sure how clever it was of Reichs to make her character cite all the real world examples that she based her pivital plot point at the end of a novel without bothering to have Tempe remember anything about eye color prior to the last few chapters. I also don’t think the medical example was all that important when even common sense and a lack of options let me know who was who and what was what long before Tempe seemed to finally muster up some interest in wrapping up her own cases.

Maybe some of this would be forgivable if I could at least like Tempe as a person. Personality-wise, you would think that a character who keeps getting into trouble with people who don’t like her would try to be less catty and petty at some point in her life. Not so with Temperance Brennan. Not only does she expect people to be nice to her even if she is unkind or really rude to them, but she also goes around judging people’s appearences and upsetting everyone and then can’t figure out why they’re upset. She mostly does this to other women, by the way, including Detective Hung who –I kid you not– she decides would be pretty if her nose was crooked but likes that she’s left her nose a mess. I guess somehow it makes Hung less of a threat to Temperance’s being everyone’s favorite horrible person?

Men seem to get mostly favorable evaluations though since they’ve all been brainwashed somehow into thinking Tempe is amazing even when she’s absolutely awful to everyone. Temperence is always kind enough to develop wonderful relationships with men who all develop feelings for her. However, Temperance continues to be jealous of any woman Ryan talks to while refusing to be in a relationship with him. She thinks horrible thoughts about a Hawaiian ME and hopes her life is rough because then she won’t be able to spend any time about Ryan.

Several books later, Tempe is STILL annoyed that Ryan is constantly looking out for Lily, his daughter who is still overcoming an addiction to heroin. She hates that he talks to the Lily’s mother even when it’s only about Lily and her well-being. She hates that he talks to anyone and wants him only to like her, but shuts him down whenever he compliments her or wishes they would get back together. And none of this has stopped her from dating Charlie Hunt when she lives in North Carolina nor has this ever stopped her from remaining married to her mostly ex-husband. I don’t like double standards. I especially don’t like characters that have them for every aspect of their life.

Temperance even spends a few paragraphs talking about how much she dislikes this other guy named Dimitriotos and always has only to be upset minutes later when –Gasp! Shock! Horror!– he makes it pretty clear that he doesn’t like her either. And this bugs her. Why? She’s made it clear she doesn’t like him, but it’s totally not cool for him to not like her. In fact, the more he dislikes her, the more annoyed she gets and keeps asking why he is so annoyed with her.  Someone even suggests him as a suspect for a nearly fatal hit and run later on in the book because he doesn’t like her which resulted in me actually yelling at an audio book in the middle of rush-our traffic about leaving Dimitriotos alone. The guy loses his job and no one likes him so really it’s no wonder that Brennan showing up as well as being well-liked by his former co-workers pisses him off and sets him on edge. It pissed me off too, and I was only listening to this thing.

I would think that a character who was nearly killed by people she was a jerk to in the book before this one would learn something. But no. Not Temperance Brennan who seems to get worse and worse as these books continue. Eventually she even gets pissy when an 80 year man and veteran of the Korean War won’t give her information because a) he doesn’t want to re-live painful memories involving his dead, beloved wife or testing and b) he doesn’t want deal with the idea that his son has been alive for 40 years and never, ever came home. He explains very clearly how he feels and she can’t understand him until hours later when she mentally repeats the whole entire conversation. Nevermind also that she waits to ask and call him until the very end of the freakin’ book when he talked to her earlier, confided his trust in her despite all of his issues, and then she proceeded to do absolutely nothing with the information he gave her. She even kept forgetting the cousin’s name or the fact that John Lowery had a twin brother and then remembering it chapters later only to convieniently decide it wasn’t really important.

Following that series of stupid events and repetition, a sherriff doesn’t want to help her either so she gets angry at him even when he’s eventually willing to give her the information that basically involves a big, unpleasant scandal. At which point Temperance thinks, and I quote, “Beasley was wasting my time. Those who do so fail to enjoy the sunny side of my disposition (pg. 254).” Well then. I sincerely wonder if anyone alive or dead has ever enjoyed the sunny side of this basketcase’s disposition.

Just to prove that my reaction is at least slightly justified, after being very icy over the phone and mentally thinking of the reluctant sherrif as a “dickhead” even when he helps her, this scene is immediately followed up by a phone call to a doctor where Temperance tells her nurse that the situation is urgent and needs a call back. The situation is not actually all that urgent since Tempe is only calling because she’s curious, a thought that occurs to her later when the doctor asks why she’s even asking these questions, but apparently that doesn’t matter to Tempe. She needs answers, dammit, and it doesn’t matter what else is going on in someone else’s life, she needs them now. But if someone calls her up to tell her about cases and it’s late, it’s okay for her to get annoyed because, you know, she’s Temperence Brennan. But I digress.

When instant gratification fails to occur, Tempe also has one of the most self-entitled rants I’ve ever read: “Twenty minutes later I was pacing the room. Didn’t physicians have to hustle these days? Eight minutes per patient? Two? A heart-beat? How long could Macken spend with one person? (pg. 255)” I’d expect this sort of barbaric impatience from Wolverine or a president under alien attack, not someone trying to pose a question to a doctor about something that happened 40 years ago. granted, Temperance isn’t saying any of this but she’s thinking it and that’s bad enough. She doesn’t even know this doctor or what’s going on where the doctor works.

When the doctor calls back seconds after this evil inner monlogue takes place, the doctor then says that her nurse told her this was a medical emergency so clearly the doctor was busy or would have called back right away. Instead of being in any way thankful for the doctor calling back, Brennan replies with a “Not Exactly” since this isn’t even a priority phone call in any way. She introduces herself and in the back of her mind she’s thinking: “KISS. Keep it simple, stupid. And local. If needed, I’d elaborate (pg. 255).”

The sherriff and doctor aren’t the only ones who get treated this way. Temperance mentally refers to half of the people she interacts with as a “prick” or a “dickhead” when they behave in the same manner that she does or don’t want to share things with her. How condescending can one person be? It never even occurs to her that maybe her icy tone, horrible demeanor, and judgemental nature might affect anything or anyone at all. Oh where oh where has this sunny disposition that Temperence allegedly has gone? Oh where oh where can it be?

If that wasn’t enough, a major subplot of the novel involves her 24 year old daughter dealing with the death of a friend. Temperance’s solution? Drag her grieving daughter to Hawaii and then go work all the time and get confused when her daughter is magically still upset a few days later. Ryan has similar problems with his daughter. Temperance’s solution? Invite them to Hawaii, not tell her daughter and then be shocked when both of the girls don’t get along when they don’t know each other from Adam.

Her daughter also has a very successful blog (*eyeroll*) that she eventually posts confidential information about gangs and wouldn’t you know it, the gangs found out and post threatening comments. But even with this going on and being a sort of big deal since the gangs want to kill her, Temperance somehow forgets to tell Ryan even though he’s staying in the house with her and his 19 year old daughter is too. But don’t worry. No one gets upset and nothing gets resolved because it’s not that important… except that it is.

Then again, nothing seems like a major deal in this book. Even when Temperance gets in a hit and run that was so obviously intentional I could have screamed, she’s too busy showing off with how clever her thoughts are to even escape the vehicle in a timely fashion when it goes over a cliff and into the flippin’ ocean. I have never listened to such a boring near-death experience and I hope to never do so again.

Once it’s over, this ought to be a big deal too, right? She almost died, didn’t she? You think she might call a loved one or be nice to Ryan when he expresses concern, but she yells at him. Instead of worrying about her injuries,  Temperance soldiers on while lying to people about the serious nature of the accident, getting upset about her make-up looking bad, getting annoyed that a cop brings her dry clothes to change into and treating local law enforcement like crap for trying to cheer her up. I mean, okay the way they tried to do it wasn’t great but Ryan was an hour away and there weren’t any other options and Temperance was being as cold as ice so… I think the bad comedy was trying to lessen the tension or, at least, ignore Tempe’s ongoing bad attitude in regards to the world at large.

To be honest even after writing this, I am still puzzled by how any of this was meant to add to the cases Tempe was working on. I mean, I’m not really doing much here besides relating actual details from the book itself. I kept wondering…  Did anyone even edit this book? I would think that this level of harsh would need to get toned down, or am I actually supposed to dislike Temperance? Was I supposed to be so blind-sided by Tempe’s unsunny disposish that I completely forgot about how simple the cases were and how easy it was to guess what had happened given all the information that was handed out at the very beginning of this book?

In terms of actual plot and solving anything going on in this book, Temperance doesn’t tell people important things ever even when it’s important to a case.  She eventually snaps her fingers, goes A-ha! and tells people things she never bothered telling them at any other point in time. And once again, at the last minute, Temperance has an answer for everything. Seriously. Reichs allows Temperance Brennan to hold information hostage from both her partner, other people and the reader to the point where it just made me want to tear my hair out. It’s way too obvious that Tempe keeps most of the information to herself so she can look awesome later. In fact I think Reichs has Tempe purposefully forget everything she learns so that the reveal will have more of a dramatic effect for her and everyone else involved.

Similarly, Reichs stretches out what ought to be a fairly straightforward short story into a novel length episode of CSI meets NCIS before hanging out with Criminal Minds and Law & Order only infinitely less entertaining and incredibly boring. What Reichs also failed to notice is what all of those shows have in common: They’re only an hour long not 10 hours of hemming, hawing and ignoring obvious leads.

I would much rather follow Ryan and other detectives around than a self-important, egotistical, illogical brat with a degree in forensic anthropology who spends as much time actually making progress on cases as she does lecturing and describing scenary. I also have a bone –no pun intended– to pick with the shameless advertising that eventually occurs in this book. At one point a cop mentions both CSI and Law & Order and then mentions Bones before deciding that show is too high-brow for the kid he’s interrogating. This is unforgivable in so many ways. Bones is so not that different from any other show, the cover of this stupid book mentions Bones already, and the main character has the same name as a character in this book. Wouldn’t the cop have noticed that at some point? You’d think so, but no. There are a lot of things going on in this book. Logical thought processes are not one of them.

I, however, like to follow clues to their logical or hypothetical conclusions, so solving this case wasn’t that hard. Maybe I don’t memorize factoids, but I do pay attention to details. I remember when I’m told one character has brown eyes and the other has green. I don’t ignore what people tell me and get annoyed at them later on when I can’t put 2 and 2 together like the less-than-lovely Mrs. Brennan. And just because a person doesn’t get a degree in anthropology doesn’t mean they are an idiot. I may not know about the medical centers there but I know enough about Vietnam to know that with a war going on bodies weren’t always going to be correctly identified or sent home.

In conclusion, boo and hiss. Even the talented Linda Emond could not save this book from being absolutely lousy. I would suggest that Spider Bones might be useful, however, if put to use in a Creative Writing class in order to convince writers to refrain from making characters that are just going to be horrible funhouse mirror versions of themselves.

So if you like medical jargon filling in for common sense, brain-storming, and manners, look no further. If you want witty banter, dysfunctional relationships and awesome characters, read some Robert B. Parker or Zoo City by Lauren Beukes. Or if you’d just like a book that gives you a well-rounded, intelligent female character and doesn’t insult your intelligence by assuming you know nothing about everything, look anywhere else but here.


About April

I'm a librarian, reader, and writer whose main goal in life is to be able to swim in books the way Scrooge McDuck swims in money. Although my reading choices will always be wildly eclectic and I never plan on leaving any genre unexplored, my favorite reads tend to be Fantasy, Young Adult, Science Fiction, Gay Romance, or Historical Fiction. You can e-mail me at inspector[dot]librarian[at]gmail[dot]com.
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3 Responses to Review: Spider Bones by Kathy Reichs

  1. Pingback: Best Reads of 2011 (So Far) | CSI: Librarian

  2. Pingback: Review: Flash and Bones by Kathy Reichs | CSI: Librarian

  3. Pingback: Disappointing Reads of 2011 | CSI: Librarian

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