Picks and Pans Review: Grave Secrets

updated 07/15/2002 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/15/2002 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Kathy Reichs

Think your job stinks? Try wading through a septic tank in search of decomposing body parts. It's all in a day's work for forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan—and the stomach-churning scene is a highlight of this uneven fifth thriller from real-life forensics specialist and University of North Carolina professor Reichs. Grave Secrets starts with Brennan on a fascinating, if chilling, mission: She's working with volunteers to identify the bodies of Guatemalan villagers massacred two decades ago during the country's long-running civil war. But local authorities draft Brennan to help with a more conventional investigation—the disappearance of several young women, including the daughter of the Canadian ambassador.

Despite some appealing chemistry between Brennan and a macho Guatemalan detective, the central case is somewhat dull, with a farfetched conclusion that does little to tie up the story's more compelling threads. Still, you'll pick up plenty of cocktail-party chatter, from the characteristics of muskrat hair to how shrunken heads get made. Fans of TV's C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation should be in heaven. (Scribner, $25)

Bottom Line: Not Reichs's best, but death becomes her

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