Deja Dead Book Review
Kathy Reichs is a well-known forensic anthropologist and a talented author. She is a Chicago native who has studied and acquired several degrees in physical anthropology. Additionally, she is one of the anthropologists certified by the American Board of Forensic science (Lee 2). In her younger years she was passionate about bio-archeology but she was constantly sought by police in both the United States and Canada to assist in murder investigations which led her down the path of forensic anthropology. At the time when she shifted to forensic anthropology this field was not well known and Kathy intended to change that. In the 1990s, she decided to venture into writing for a pop audience in an effort to familiarize the public with the field of forensic anthropology (Lee, 2). Deja dead was the result of these efforts and the first fictional novel that Kathy Reichs wrote in an attempt to bring her science to a broader audience. Kathy admits that most of her books are based on real cases that she actually worked on and Deja dead is no different. It is partly based on the case of a murdered writer who had disappeared only a few months after her wedding. Unable to find concrete evidence to convict the suspected killer, the police department called on Kathy who helped uncover hard evidence that put the killer behind bars.
Deja Dead Book Summary
Deja Dead begins with Dr. Temperance Brennan (a forensic anthropologist) making plans for the upcoming weekend. Although her plans weren’t solid, she planned a sightseeing trip involving visiting Plains of Abraham and generally just being away from decomposing bodies and skeletons (Reichs 5). However, before she could turn her plans into reality, a dismembered body is discovered that she is required to examine. Parts of the woman’s body are discovered in plastic bags around the same area. The body is too decomposed for a normal autopsy too be carried out and a forensic anthropologist is needed to study the bones in order to try and determine the cause of death.
Dr. Brennan studies the bones and attempts to reconstruct the victims profile i.e. sex, race and identity of the victim. By studying the bones, she is able to determine that the victim was female and in her early twenties. Using dental records and missing persons file she is able to identify the victim as Isabelle Gagnon. Additionally, she is also able to determine the weapon used to cut up the victim’s body. By studying the gruesome murder, she is able to find similarities of these murder to others that have occurred in Montreal with the same MO i.e. the same mode of disposal and the bodies were cut up the same way. However when she suggests this to the police department, they deny the idea that there may be a serial killer in Montreal (Reichs 25).
Refusal by the department to see the connection between these murders frustrates Dr. Brennan leading her to conduct her own investigations. Complicating matters for Dr. Brennan is her close friend from college, Gabby. Although both of them majored in anthropology, Gabby focused on cultural anthropology with Tempe focusing on physical anthropology. At the moment, Gabby was working in the red light district studying the sub culture of prostitutes. During a dinner date, Gabby acts strange and fearful but Tempe does not pay any more thought to it. After disappearing for a couple weeks, Gabby calls Tempe frantic ad frightened asking for help but Tempe does not pay much attention to it since she has always considered her friend to be somewhat unreliable. After this call, Gabby disappears again and Tempe does not seem to worry much about it since she has her bigger problems to deal with like finding evidence to prove the existence of the serial killer. However after Gabby goes missing for more than a week, Tempe starts looking for her, however, Gabby calls her and asks Tempe to leave her alone since she was only making things worse. Filled with anger at what she perceives to be another one of Gabby’s games, she decides to leave her alone (Reichs 131). This attitude would come to haunt her later.
More bodies are discovered and details continue to pile up suggesting the existence of a serial killer in Montreal. Dr. Brennan collects evidence and eventually even the police department cannot deny that she might be right about the serial killer. As a result, a task force is formed in order to bring the killer to justice. As she continues to investigate, she uncover details about the killer including the fact that he liked women aged between 20-35 and these women are prostitutes who lived in the Montreal area. Since Gabby was carrying out studies on the women that the killer was targeting, she ends up a victim of the killer.
After uncovering many clues that point to a potential suspect, the killer begins to taunt the doctor by leaving her “clues” in her home. It soon becomes clear that the killer knows significant details about Dr. Brennan and is using this knowledge to taunt her. Eventually, Dr. Brennan uncovers the killer’s identity. Unable to reach any of the detectives heading the taskforce, she is forced to go after the killer herself which leads to her capture by the killer. Finally face to face with the killer, Dr. Brennan is put in the same position as the other women that Leo Fortier murdered. Alone with the killer, Tempe almost becomes a victim but she is able to fight him off until the police arrive just in time to save her and apprehend the killer.
Background of Protagonist
Dr. Temperance Brennan is a forensic anthropologist working at the Laboratoire des Sciences Judiciaries et de Medicine Legale in the Province of Quebec, in Montreal, Canada. . Her main work is to study human remains that have decomposed so much that a normal autopsy cannot be carried out, in murder investigations in an attempt to uncover the cause of death. She is a native of Chicago and one of the only fifty certified forensic anthropologists in North America. Prior to the events in Deja Dead, she divorced her husband, Janis Peterson. As a result of their marriage, they have a daughter, Katy, who is in college. Tempe also has a cat called Birdie that is her only companion while her daughter is away at college. She has also struggled with alcoholism prior to the events of the book but was able to overcome this addiction. As a result, she doesn’t any alcohol (Reichs 259).
At the University, Tempe decided to study anthropology and specifically majored in Physical Anthropology. After grad school, she went to North Carolina where she taught a course on primate biology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte as part of the faculty of Anthropology. Additionally, she took up a visiting professorship at McGill and started working part time at the lab. She would commute between the States and Canada performing her various duties. When the workload at the lab became too much, she permanently committed to the Montreal lab and took a leave of absence from the University of North Carolina (Reichs, 21).
Her work at the lab is the center of the book. She is responsible for examining bodies that are too decomposed or destroyed in attempt to identify them and possibly identify the cause of death. She is driven with finding justice for those victims that have long been forgotten and their remains have long decomposed, their voices have long been still and others have stopped caring about them or what happened to them (Reichs 6).
Forensic anthropology is the examination of human bones for law enforcement agencies in order to identify the victims and possibly identify the cause of death. In her book, Deja Dead, Kathy tells a fictional story of a forensic anthropologist trying to solve the gruesome murders of young women in Montreal. In her book, although fictional, Kathy deals with the various subfields of Forensic Anthropology which are discussed below.
Biological Profile: Determination of Sex and Age
Biological Profile is a group of characteristics that an individual possessed in their lifetime that can be determined from the bones after death. These characteristics include age, race, sex, and physical stature. From examination of the bones of the victim discovered at the beginning of the book, Dr. Brennan identified the race of the victim from the skin that remained on the bones which was fair indicating that the victim was white (Reichs 14). From the delicacy of the facial features and the overall slight build of the body Tempe identified the victim to be female. Additionally, the pubic bones, once put together, formed a curve with a wide arch and delicate raised ridges that cut across the front of each pubic bone created distinct triangles the lower corners (Reichs 14). These, according to Dr. Brennan were typical female features. She determined the age of the victim by examining the knee and elbow joints. Long bones identified appeared to be significantly mature meaning that the victim was an adult but young due to the absence of lack of wear on the teeth and the fact that there was no arthritic change in the joints (Reichs 15).
It has been proven that the pelvis of a female produces a wide U-shape subpubic angle while males produce a narrow V-shaped subpubic angle (Klepinger, 43). According to a series of test carried out over a number of years, long developed bones were seen as an acceptable age determinant, however they were not as reliable as dental data (Klepinger, 64). Findings of Dr. Brennan are consistent with what forensic anthropologist accept as the criteria for determining a victim’s biological profile.
Elapsed Time since Death
Dr. Brennan was convinced that the victim had been dead less than 3 months due to the presence of maggots and degree of deterioration of the body. Additionally, she identified that connective tissue ware still present while brain matter and viscera were absent which suggested that the death occurred early spring (Reichs 16).
Brain matter is first to degrade (Klepinger 135). Different insects and arthropods are resent at different stages of decomposition. Odor as well is present at different stages of decomposition (Klepinger 136). Kathy describes these conditions but does this so briefly that I felt that she did not provide detailed information that would convince the reader of the time of death.
Blunt Force Trauma
After identification of the victim what follows next is to analyze trauma to identify exactly what occurred at the time of death. If done correctly, this analysis can identify the circumstances leading to the victim’s death and the murder weapon used to kill the victim. Dr. Brennan examined the bones for signs of trauma including fractures, gashes and any cut marks. She found jagged edges of the lacerations on her scalp which was evidence that she had been repeatedly hit by a blunt object (Reichs 27). Tempe found two comminuted fracture and a depressed fracture of the posterior of right parietal (the first blow was not hard enough and only caused a depression but the next blow was hard enough that it caused her skull to shatter.) She also identified linear fractures that begun at the opposite side and travelled the damage to the right parietal. All these indicated that the blows were delivered from the back and slightly to the right (Reichs 36). The victim’s neck was bruised and her eyes had petechial hemorrhages which indicated that small blood vessels around her eyes had burst as a result of strangulation (Reichs, 27).
Findings described in the book are consistent with what forensic anthropologists have identified with blunt force trauma to the skull. It is proven that a powerful blow to the head can cause fractures some distance from the point of impact and may cause depression on the skulls and in some occasions lead to shattering of the skull (Klepinger 121).
All the bodies discovered in the book were dismembered. It was part of the killer’s MO. The killer did not just cut up the bodies haphazardly, he neatly cut them at the joints (Reichs 37). This type of dismemberment was what drove Tempe to connect the murders and come up with the theory of a serial killer. Throughout the book, this dismemberment is referred to and used as the key to unlocking the mystery of the killer. From the saw and knife marks on the bones, Tempe was able to identify that the killer first cut the flesh with a knife then separated the joints with a saw (Reichs 88).
Usually, in forensic anthropologists, dismemberment is deliberate with the intention of ascertaining the identity of the body or to better study the bones by placing separate bones in specific containers and the usual instrument for the job is a saw (Klepinger, 147). However, Kathy deals with the dismemberment from the killer’s perspective and never lets the reader experience deliberate dismemberment by a professional forensic anthropologist. I would have loved to view it from a professional perspective and not form a serial killer’s point of view.
This is described as the study of the processes that affect remains of living things as they become focalized. It is determined that nature and rate of decomposition is dependent on the body’s immediate environment. Archeologists identify soil acidity, exposure to weathering, depth of burial and weather as some of the environmental conditions that affect the degree of reservation of a body (Klepinger 139). Frozen bodies do not decay which means that a body dumped in the winter does not decay or attract bugs. Shallow graves may lead to a body being scavenged by animals which may lead to early loss of soft tissue and exposure of bones which may increase the level of decomposition.
Kathy did not deal with this topic as extensively and detailed as I had hoped, she only provides brief descriptions of taphonomy in the book which does not give the reader the necessary information they would need to identify the level of environmental effect on the victims’ bodies.
American Anthropological Association developed the code of ethics that guide all fields of anthropology (Webb 21). At the core of this code is that all people studied should be treated with respect and any research on them should be conducted in a way that preserves their dignity and privacy (Webb 21). Throughout her work, Tempe treated all the bodies with the respect they deserved and carried out all her research preserving the dignity of the bodies. The most significant display of this respect comes when she was examining the victim discovered at the beginning of the book when she remarks that “nothing else will matter until she has a name” (Beichs, 15). This demonstrates that she doesn’t just view the victims as bodies she is working on but rather as human beings who have families and a past. She is constantly filled with dread and sadness whenever she examines the body. This continuous show of respect to the bodies is demonstrated in the book showing that Kathy adhered to the AAA code of ethics even in the writing of this book.
Although a work of fiction, Deja dead is filled with a great amount of information about forensic anthropology. Written by a forensic anthropologist, it contains reliable information on the field. I would recommend it to any anthropology students looking to gain knowledge on the subject while still being entertained.
Reichs, Kathy. Deja Dead (1st Ed.). Scribner. 1997.
Klepinger, Linda. Fundamentals of Forensic Anthropology. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2006.
Lee, Cheryl. The Real Temperance Brennan: Kathy Reichs and the Rise of Forensic Anthropology in North America through her Fictional Counterpart. For Dr. O’Donnell’s Advanced Composition 3130 class. ETS U. 2011.
Webb, Jana. Professional Ethics: Forensic Anthropology and Human Rights Work. Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Project. Paper 611. 2006