Isn’t is odd when you finish one book and pick up another, seemingly completely unrelated, and find that they have an unexpected kinship, that a theme seems to be emerging…
I had just finished the fascinating Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession by Craig Childs (Little, Brown & Co), about the shadowy trade in the past (artifacts that include everyday objects and art and (dead) bodies) and picked up the new Kathy Reich’s thriller Bones of the Lost (William Heinemann Ltd) which features a character who is appears to be one such trader in objects, art and (very much alive) bodies – and maybe a murderer. Both are about identity, the meaning of the past, and how different people apprehend and appropriate that past.
Childs’ book was really interesting, mostly about the U.S deserty southwest, the parts where various waves of people have lived and then disappeared for centuries, leaving behind arrowheads, crumbling architecture, potsherds, ornate jewellery, precious shells carried far from the coast, and carefully buried bodies. Childs is angry about how much has been taken and intrigued by our impulse of collect. He is no righteous sermoniser though, as he describes his own ambivalent urges to own and to connect with people across centuries and civilisations. He is sometimes lyrical in defence of the landscape he knows so well, and clear and compassionate in laying out the various and competing claims and ethics of academics, public institutions, amateur collectors and the descendants of these potmakers and shell valuers.
Reichs’ new book is number 16 in her Temperance Brennan series, about her forensic anthropologist who divides her time, as Reichs does, between Montreal and North Carolina. This one is set in North Carolina and Afghanistan – Tempé is asked to examine skeletons there for a military trial. And of course there is our trader in ancient cultural artifacts who seems to be linked to the recent murder of a young woman. I thought it was a good read, a clever tale. As usual, I found the most interesting bits the explanations about forensic anthropology, Reichs is able to communicate the importance of what she does and the amazing science behind it so well. I am, frankly, bored with the will she or won’t she set up with almost ex-husband Pete and the on-off beau from Canada – see, I cannot even remember his name. Get the woman a more interesting personal life or keep her busy with cases.