Mini Review: Swamp Bones by Kathy Reichs 🎧

About mini reviews:

Maybe you’re not an audio book person, or maybe you are. I provide mini reviews of audio books and give a recommendation on the format. Was this book improved by a voice actor? Would a physical copy have been better? Perhaps they complement each other? Read on. . .

Before I started Swamp Bones, I had not read any of Kathy Reichs other “Temperance Brennan” books. Swamp Bones is #16.5, but I don’t think it makes a difference where you jump in — it didn’t affect me that I hadn’t started with #1. You get quick information about Temperance, a forensic anthropologist, which means she examines human remains so destroyed that an autopsy cannot be performed. Temperance is headed to Florida for vacation, staying with another scientist she met at a conference. Her friend does the same thing Temperance does — examines the deceased to determine what happened — except the friend looks at avian remains. Temperance leaves the airport to head to the ornithologist’s lab so she can pick up a spare house key. Hard at work, her friend shows Temperance a vulture she’s examining, which was found inside of a python. Guess what Temperance notices inside the vulture? Feet bones! There are never vacations for people like Temperance.

Although at it’s core Swamp Bones is a mystery — whose foot is that, and who killed the owner of said foot — I didn’t care about those questions. When I got to then end and learned the murderer’s name, I was very “meh.” That doesn’t mean the book was boring. Temperance’s skills are all authentic; author Kathy Reichs was a forensic anthropologist and thus has years of decorated experience and time teaching FBI agents to use in her fiction. Temperance can tell that the foot was severed with a chainsaw and that the owner is a young adult female who was in good health. I was amazed, to be honest. Every time Temperance examined a piece of human remains, Reichs wrote scientifically in a way that allowed me to follow along but never seemed too dumbed down.

Not only is the scientific inquiry and analysis highly interesting, Reichs crafts a believable setting, too. The Florida Everglades are teeming with life, especially the invasive Burmese python that is not only not native to North America, but is so weirdly adaptable that it’s thriving in these wetlands. The Everglades are also home to the American alligator, so lots of chompy squeezey things! When Temperance comes into contact with the swamp, things get dangerous:

“What the hell are you doing in the swamp at night?”

Water rippled to my left. Close. I turned only my head, slowly. Saw nothing.

I was about to reply to Jordan, when something smooth and solid brushed my arm underwater. Something thick and long. Very long.

My heart leapt into my throat.

“Dammit,” Jordan boomed. “You just cost me a sixteen-footer.”

Reichs takes readers (or, like me, listeners) into the world of python and gator hunting and swamp people, all in the name of scientific inquiry/police demand. Audiobook narrator Katherine Borowitz does a fine job. Her work is nothing special, but I wasn’t annoyed, and the mixing kept me from turning the audiobook up/down needlessly. Therefore, Swamp Bones can be enjoyed either on the page or through speakers. I plan to check out Bones on Ice, another novella, next!

28 comments

  1. I’ve read a few of Kathy Reichs books and always enjoyed them too. I’m also really fascinated by Florida, and swamps in general, there’s something about those landscapes that are so beautiful (and very different from the Canadian wilds!). I want to take one of those river boat cruises where you zoom along on those boats with the giant fans attached to you haha

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    • Anne, I can totally see your messy bun whipping along in the wind as you speed along in an airboat, lol.

      Which Reichs books did you like? I listened to her first full-length novel and found it a bit bloated. There was so much extra stuff, but I may have felt that way because I started with these novellas.

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  2. I always enjoy a Bones book when they come up in the library. You worry about Australian creepy crawlies but there’s no way I’d be standing in swamp water here or there let alone with something slithering against my leg.

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    • You are totally right about swamps. I saw this nature program in which they were trying to capture an anaconda for scientific reasons, and they were standing in the water because anacondas aren’t poisonous or venomous. They’re very squeezy and will kill children and cattle, but I guess these adults felt good about their chances. But anacondas still have TEETH. In the show, this anaconda shot out of the water and bit this dude in the leg. He got all freaked out because he was just along for the ride and not one of the scientists. He later had to go to the hospital and have a snake tooth pulled out of his flesh.

      Okay, a few people have mentioned enjoying Bones books. Which ones did you like? I listened to the first full-length novel, Deja Dead, and found it reeeeeeeeally slow in places. Perhaps I got used to the tight writing and steady pacing of the novellas? Also, for some reason, most of the novels on e-book a the library are abridged, cut down from lengths like 16 hours to just 5.

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    • I’ve just finished listening to Speaking in Bones, a full length novel (10 hours). It was dragging a bit by the end and I thought the personal bits – she gets a marriage proposal from Ryan off in Montreal – added nothing to the story unless you were making your way sequentially through the series. Not much science. I’d give it 6/10

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  3. I wonder if you would have enjoyed this book as much if you had started from book 1. I wonder only because I feel like there are only so many forensic anthropologist details worth hearing over the course of 16+ books. At some point, that has to wear off and you’re in this series for the characters and the plot, right?

    What inspired you to pick this book up? I’m glad the audio mixing was well done. I hate bad audio mixing. It’s enfuriating.

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    • I picked this book up because it was a novella. That was the main thing I was looking for at the time. Also, I liked the plot being set in swampy, python filled Florida–fun to read about, not to go to.

      As for the science stuff? I was talking to my mom about this, whom also read the book. She wanted the science stuff to go faster, and I wanted all the derpy friends, family, and police people to stop doing things so I could get back to the science! Things like how Dr. Brennan can tell what kind of saw the killer used based on clues that tell her if the saw requires pressure on the push forward or the pull back, now far apart the teeth on the saw blade measure (which she gets by measuring these tiny crest sort of things in the bones), etc. I love listening to stuff about science but was never great in a lab, myself!

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      • I won’t lie — I’ve never said to myself, “Wow, you know what I really need right now? A novella.” You’d think I would, as I love short stories– so why not hunt for a novella? I guess it’s mostly because I find my books at the library and there isn’t a novella section. There should be. Short stories in one section, novellas in another. Not ALL of them. Just rotate a selection in and out so people can easily find the reading length they are looking for. I like this idea.

        I love how you and your mother wanted different things from this book! That’s great. I’d probably be in your camp as I love science. Well, maybe not forensic science — but science non-fiction is my second favorite non-fiction topic (memoir is first – particularly when listening to an audiobook narrated by the author. I just feel so *close* to the experiences!).

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  4. Great review! I’ve never read any of Reichs’s books, and actually didn’t make the connection when you mentioned this upcoming post in your last Sunday Lowdown, but I loved the corresponding TV show Bones a few years back! It’s definitely a slower-paced series with a lot of attention to detail and less focus on the relationship dramas that a lot of investigative mysteries resort to, which I appreciate. And Brennan is a fantastic lead character, it comes as no surprise to hear that Reichs is very knowledgeable about forensic anthropology herself. I think having watched so much of the show I’m less inclined to pick up any of the books, but it’s nice to discover that the stories are so similar and make for pleasant reads!

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    • If you love the show, I wouldn’t recommend you pick up the books just based on what other Goodreads folks have said. Many of them love the show and then read the books and were frustrated. Apparently, both are very good, but there isn’t much of a connection other than Dr. Brennan Is A Person.

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  5. I’ve only read one of Reichs’ books (and actually I don’t think I finished it) – I loved the first several series of Bones on TV, so it was very confusing to read a book with a main character who had the same name and occupation as the main character of the show, but a very different personality. That’s not to say the book wasn’t good – my mum likes them a lot and I dare say if I’d got to the books first, I would have enjoyed them a lot more. Now that I haven’t watched Bones in a few years, I wonder if I would like the books more.

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    • I read on Goodreads that people who watched the show and loved it were surprised and disappointed that the books were so different, and that people who love the books were bummed by the show. I guess they need to live in their own worlds, even though they have the same main character.

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  6. I’ve always thought of Reichs as a Canadian author because of her connection with Montreal, but I realize she’s actually an American author. So I did read the books when the series launched (there weren’t a tonne of Canadian mystery writers then, some, not lots) and enjoyed the first few–maybe 3? But then I just lost track of the series; I’ve heard it’s been pretty consistent but I just haven’t returned to it yet. FWIW, I didn’t like the show (although it sounded good) and I’m not science-y either but I actually did enjoy the forensic parts of the investigating and how curious and methodical she was with her work. (Those are probably the boring bits left out of the audio. LOL)

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    • I loved the science stuff; that was my favorite. I got quite bored when Dr. Brennan talked about her friend or her daughter or her ex. Blech. Both the character and the author would split their time between Montreal and North Carolina. There are still new books being published, too. One just came out!

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      • I know! Every time I see one of them advertised (or read a post like yours) I think, maaaybe. And I’ve thought that a LOT of times. (No disrespect to the series that I keep ignoring the idea, just too many other books competing for time.)

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  7. My first book with Kathy Reichs , was with Max Allen Collins -Bones Buried Deep , have since been a big fan of hers. Have every Temperance Brennan Novels.

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