The Real Bones

I just finished reading Bones to Ashes, a crime novel by forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs. She is, of course, the real “Bones,” but I had fun getting to know her Temperance Brennan, also the character of the television show.

I love the TV show. The crime-solving is intriguing, and the characters are engaging and fun. I really like the actors, especially Emily Deschanel (Brennan) and David Boreanaz (FBI agent Seeley Booth, and before that Angel from Joss Whedon’s universe). It is because of the TV show that I picked up Reich’s book.

But I like the “real” Tempe better. The television show is glitzy and high-tech; the Brennan from the book works in a modest office with only the occasional assistant. The television Tempe can tell gender, age, and often cause of death from a quick examination of deteriorated bones; the book Tempe must slowly collect the evidence and live with long-standing mysteries.

More important are the character differences. The recurring clash on the TV show is between the nerdy, secular Tempe and the cool, Catholic Booth. There’s none of that in the book. Sure, book-Tempe is smart, but she’s a normal person, not some hyper-geek. There’s none of this rationalism-versus-emotionalism baggage that I must tolerate with the TV show.

Book-Tempe’s background is also totally different from that of TV-Tempe, but such details don’t matter as much to the story (even though book-Tempe was married).

The bottom line is that, while I’ll continue to enjoy the TV show (my wife and I are in the middle of the third season), I now have an entirely different, alternate-universe Tempe to get to know. If the television show had not been created, I can see how a series of films could have approached the source material much differently (and much more closely).

I don’t read a lot of crime novels, so I can’t really compare it to other works in the genre. But I enjoyed it. I liked the leading characters, though from a somewhat distant perspective. The mystery itself develops well enough. The relationships are colorful, though I didn’t much care where they led. I can’t see myself ever reading the same book again (though I’ll probably read other books in the series); it doesn’t develop much of a broader theme. But it is an engaging, plot-driven book (with some cool science) where the good guys (mostly) win, and often that’s enough.