It’s brilliant when an established author comes out biting, gouging and punching below the belt with a revitalised zest for telling a rip-snorting story. That’s pretty much what’s happened here, with this new standalone thriller from one of the genre’s heavy hitters.
Although I find forensic anthropology and the scientific analysis of crime scenes fascinating, I’m afraid the Tempe Brennan series of investigations by Kathy Reichs lost me half a dozen books ago. The story got submerged under all the baggage which a long-running series accumulates, while the plots became increasingly less credible. The last couple I read leaned heavily on the ‘now it’s personal’ action-adventure angle, when I prefer the deduction-through-decomposition style of story.
And maybe Kathy Reichs herself had become a little tired of going through the motions. Who knows? But she’s certainly got her mojo back (if indeed you felt she’d lost it) with Two Nights, touted as a standalone thriller (although it has plenty of scope to be the start of a new series, should it prove a wow with the crowds).
Based in the USA and with an all-new female protagonist, Two Nights is also heavily rooted in technical tradecraft – this time it’s street surveillance and private investigations in the internet age. Our new heroine carries the requisite physical and psychological scars from a suitably traumatic past. She’s infinitely more suited to streetwise rough and tumble than was the somewhat cerebral Tempe, who always felt a little bit precarious in the field, like she might chip a nail or fall off her heels. Sunday (‘Sunnie’) Night has been in the military and law enforcement. She knows how to handle herself, how to handle munitions and how to navigate the dark web. Her people skills are not so hot and she has definite emotional and entanglement issues – but that’s what keeps her interesting throughout this procedural investigation.
The storyline is compelling – a teenage girl was snatched by a cult organisation during a terror attack. She may be alive. She may be dead. She may be involved in another terrorist atrocity. Her wealthy family want closure, and Sunnie is their unorthodox route to finding the truth. The storytelling bogs down a bit with maybe a touch too much realism. There are extended segments of watching and waiting; the hallway sequence works brilliantly at building tension but, later in the book, the thumb-twiddling and irritating airline delays have the reverse effect. Just cut to the chase, I was thinking.
Similarly, the interspersed sequences of the girl being tormented by her cult captors irritated me for much of the book. They interrupt the flow and distract from the main event. And I felt that the genetic relationship between Sunday and her brother, August, was just too weird. She’s white: he’s black. This is played on throughout the book for no apparent reason – it adds little apart from confusion while pushing the boundaries of biological possibility.
On the plus side: superb, snappy dialogue and snarkily sharp observations. A refreshing lack of unreasonable behaviour from the forces of law and order. A crisp, sparse writing style. Savvy fight scenes in which the smaller, lighter fighter has to fight fast and fight nasty against the big boys. And a brilliant twist which caught me with my jaw flapping.
So while it’s not quite the ideal comeback, but Two Nights certainly woke me up and got me interested in reading more from Kathy Reichs. Mission accomplished.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Two Nights by Kathy Reichs is available initially in hardback and ebook