John Preston

Bookends | 3 September 2011

How to bury a body

Dr Temperance Brenner, like her creator, Kathy Reichs, is a forensic anthropologist. She works in North Carolina, specialising in ‘decomps and floaters’. This ensures that in Flesh and Bones (Heinemann, £18.99) you get plenty of authentic sounding detail with your gore. So when a human hand is found sticking out of a drum full of asphalt at the local speedway track, Reichs carefully includes plenty of stuff about how to extract the body — start with a power saw, then move on to an air hammer — and about the drum itself: ‘the size of the drum suggested a 35-gallon capacity.’

But there’s plenty more to Reichs than just insider info. She’s very good on character — Brennan, an alcoholic cat-lover, is an engaging mix of bullishness and vulnerability — while her plots are delicately knotted and full of tension. Here she’s investigating the disappearance of a pair of teenagers 18 years earlier — one of whom had connections with a particularly bonkers militia group called the Patriot Posse.

The body count is reassuringly high, the denouement satisfactorily shocking, the autopsy descriptions guaranteed to turn the most cast-iron stomach. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s some handy advice on how best to bury a body. Having tipped your cadaver into the hole and then filled it in, don’t stamp on the earth afterwards. This Reichs notes sternly is ‘the usual mistake of the uninformed’ and will simply make the ground sink into a telltale depression. Far better just to give the soil a light pat with your spade and let nature take its course.

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