The Bone Code by Kathy Reichs, Review: Scientific suspense

Kathy Reichs’ The Bone Code sees much-loved Tempe Brennan and ex-detective Andrew Ryan unravel a highly topical, criminally complex web. Read my full review.

The Book Code Review - Kathy Reichs

The Bone Code Synopsis

A Temperance Brennan Novel, Book #20

A storm has hit South Carolina, dredging up crimes of the past.

On the way to Isle of Palms, a barrier island off the South Carolina coast, forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan receives a call from the Charleston coroner. During the storm, a medical waste container has washed up on the beach. Inside are two decomposed bodies wrapped in plastic sheeting and bound with electrical wire. Chillingly, Tempe recognizes many details as identical to those of an unsolved case she handled in Quebec fifteen years earlier. With a growing sense of foreboding, she flies to Montreal to gather evidence and convince her boss Pierre LaManch to reopen the cold case. She also seeks the advice—and comfort—of her longtime beau Andrew Ryan.

Meanwhile, a storm of a different type gathers force in South Carolina. The citizens of Charleston are struck by a bacterium that, at its worst, can eat human flesh. Thousands panic and test themselves for a rare genetic mutation that may have rendered them vulnerable.

Shockingly, Tempe eventually discovers that not only are the victims in both grisly murder cases related, but that the murders and the disease outbreak also have a common cause…​​

(Simon & Schuster AU, April 2021)

Genre: Crime-Detective, Mystery, Drama, Thriller

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The Bone Code Review

Alright, so I will admit to being a HUGE fan of the Bones TV series, before I dipped into this book series. I thoroughly enjoyed Cross Bones #8 but then a few years later was underwhelmed by Flash and Bones #14. So this series had dropped off my reading radar. That is, until The Bone Code #20 landed on my review pile.

While the books and TV series they inspired differ (clearly), common to both is their straight-talking leading lady, forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan. I love her scientific passion and doggedness, and her matter-of-fact, often dry observations about the human race. For example, her musings on an early winter blast in Montreal and her never being prepared for it:

Maybe les Quebecois weren’t reading that year either. Depressed by the rapidly decreasing hours of daylight? Dreading another long, dark season? Pissed that it was too damn early to be so damn cold? Whatever the impetus, the locals had gotten busy culling the herd. Giving me plenty to do while awaiting the DNA results.

But the cold hard truth of the matter is, in the books, I’ve found her character much more endearing when she’s been involved with Andrew Ryan. His good-natured teasing bounces off, and I guess softens, her hard edges. And, in this title Tempe and Ryan are cohabitating!

In The Bone Code, the rapid-fire banter between this French-Anglo crime-fighting double act is wonderful. Plus, the sizzle of their refreshing mature mid-life romance provides light and levity, beautifully timed to balance the shadiness and depravity of the criminals they are pursuing in these scaringly topical cases. It was also fun to read Tempe taking on the unaccustomed role of good-cop when she finds herself working with a female detective even harder-nosed than she.

For the most part, Reichs’ staccato narrative and character descriptions (reminiscent of Emma Viskic’s Caleb Zelic series prose style) were punchy and the unravelling of the admirably complex criminal web well-paced. However, there were times when Tempe sought more detailed, laboured explanations from other scientific experts than I felt she, as a highly experienced forensic scientist, would have required. For the lay reader’s benefit, I presume? Perhaps I am just well-read on this topical subject matter… hard to say.

So yes, I joined the dots a little quicker than fictional Tempe admitted to. But, I enjoyed the intellectual stimulation offered by the subject matter and sinking my teeth into the knotty, multi-pronged cross border investigation.

The Bone Code #20 is a quality addition to Kathy Reichs’ iconic Temperence Brennan series. Sign me up for the next one.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5

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Update: I’ve since also had the pleasure of reading Book 21 in this series, Cold Cold Bones.

For a full list of Kathy Reichs’ ‘Bones’ books in order, I recommend the FantasticFiction website.

More compelling crime fiction:

More The Bone Code Reviews

“Over the course of twenty books, Kathy Reichs and Tempe Brennan have thrilled readers with pacey, mazey tales grounded in real science, with plots springing from the author’s prodigious knowledge and passion for truth and justice.  We readers are truly grateful—and looking forward to the next twenty!”  – Ian Rankin, New York Times bestselling author of the Inspector Rebus novels

“Kathy Reichs is expert at making science both scary and thrilling, and she’s in top form in The Bone Code. The story moves at such a relentless pace I couldn’t stop turning the pages!”  – Tess Gerritsen, New York Times bestselling author of Choose Me

About the Author, Kathy Reichs

Kathy Reichs’s first novel Déjà Dead, published in 1997, won the Ellis Award for Best First Novel and was an international bestseller. The Bone Code is Kathy’s twentieth entry in her series featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. Kathy was also a producer of Fox Television’s longest-running scripted drama, Bones, which is based on her work and her novels. One of very few forensic anthropologists certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, Kathy divides her time between Charlotte, North Carolina, and Montreal, Québec. Visit her at or follow her on Twitter @KathyReichs.

* My receipt of a review copy from the publisher did not impact the expression of my honest opinions above.