The story begins with forensic anthropologist, Dr. Temperance Brennan, exhuming the remains of a nun buried at the end of the 19th. century, in the remains of an old church in Montreal. She returns home exhausted but there's no rest for the wicked as not many hours later she's called out to help investigate an arson attack. A family, parents and two babies, have been murdered and Tempe also discovers the charred remains of an elderly woman in the basement. It proves impossible to discover who they all are as the neighbours don't know them and clues in the remains of the house are non-existant.
Tempe returns to her other job in the university in Charlotte, North Carolina, but it's not long before a colleague from Montreal, Andrew Ryan, calls about the arson case. He's travelling south to pick up the trail of the dead family. Phone calls have been traced to a town on the South Carolina coast where a cult has taken up residence and Ryan wants Tempe to go with him to investigate. Tempe has a lot going on, plus is fighting an attraction to Ryan, so is reluctant to go. She's eventually persuaded though and travels south for a few days with her daughter. They eventually track the cult's remote residence to an island off the coast. Oddly it seems orderly and well-run but Tempe feels they're hiding something. It takes more deaths and all her ingenuity and bravery to discover what that thing is.
I thought this second book in the series was even better than the first. I liked the Montreal setting of the first book and this one is partly set there too... but when it moves south to The Carolinas it becomes rivetting and more psychologically frightening in my opinion. It's the cult thing that creates that fear and there's a lot about the issue in the story. How do they recruit people? Why do people believe their nonsense and get sucked in? How do they hang on to their recruits and what can sometimes be the tragic outcome? (Think Waco.) I found it fascinating and not a little scary.
It wouldn't be any exaggeration to call the pace of the plot 'relentless'. It's one thing after another with dead bodies all over the place and poor Tempe being required to be in a dozen places at once, permanently exhausted and drained from the horror of what's going on and what she has to do. I felt for her and wished she would occasionally say, 'No' to people.
Towards the end the action moves back to Montreal and final scenes take place during the famous ice-storm of 1998. This was brilliantly done and is one of the best parts of the book. Edge of the seat stuff really. Kathy Reichs really does do 'place' very well indeed and this book illustrates that well whether she's describing the heat and humidity of South Carolina or the frigidity of winter-time Quebec.
This is not your normal ghostly R.I.P. read. But for me the very real background to this crime story made it just as frightening as any supernatural yarn and a good book for the challenge.