Picks and Pans Review: Bare Bones

updated 09/01/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/01/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

By Kathy Reichs

Star detective Temperance (Tempe) Brennan is in a mess again: She ends up excavating a privy as she pursues another mysterious case. Bits of human bone mixed with the corpses of six headless and skinless bear corpses have been buried on a farm outside Charlotte, N.C. Attached to the medical examiner's office there, Brennan is also investigating the circumstances under which an infant was incinerated, as well as the crash of a small plane on a cocaine run. Reichs strains to merge the three cases into one, involving drug smugglers who've expanded operations to include wildlife poaching.

Reichs's plot isn't as compelling as usual, and Tempe's continuing romance with Canadian cop Andrew Ryan and her relationship with daughter Katy just seem like excess baggage. Meanwhile, Brennan surrenders to angst and tears: "Sometimes I think goodness and charity are racing toward extinction faster than the condor or the black rhino," she declaims at one point. More clues and less blues, please. (Scribner, $25)

BOTTOM LINE: Barely okay

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