It was a summer morning in 1982 when soldiers ravaged the village of Chupan Ya, raping and killing women and children. Twenty-three victims are said to lie in the well where, twenty years later, Dr. Temperance Brennan and a team from the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation now dig. No records were kept. To their families, the dead are "the disappeared."
Forensic anthropologist for the medical examiners in North Carolina and Montreal, Tempe is in Guatemala for a month's service to help some families identify and bury their dead. She digs in a cold, damp pit where she finds a hair clip, a fragment of cloth, a tiny sneaker. Her trowel touches something hard: the hip of a child no more than two years old.
It's heartbreaking work. Something savage happened here twenty years ago. The violence continues today. The team is packing up for the day when an urgent satellite call comes in. Two colleagues are under attack. Shots ring out, and Tempe listens in horror to a woman's screams. Then there is silence. Dead silence.
With this new violence, everything changes, both for the team and for Tempe, who's asked by the Guatemalan police for her expertise on another case. Four privileged young women have vanished from Guatemala City in recent months. One is the Canadian ambassador's daughter. Some remains have turned up in a septic tank, and Tempe unfortunately knows septic tanks.
Teaming with Special Crimes Investigator Bartolomé Galiano, and with Montreal detective Andrew Ryan, who may have more than just professional reasons to join her on the case, Tempe soon finds herself in a dangerous web that stretches far beyond Guatemala's borders. The stakes are huge. As power, money, greed, and science converge, Tempe must make life-altering choices.
From cutting-edge science in the lab, where Tempe studies fetal bones and cat hair DNA, to a chilling en-counter in a lonely morgue, Grave Secrets is powerful, page-turning entertainment from a crime fiction superstar who combines riveting authenticity with witty, elegant prose.
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July 08, 2002
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Excerpt from Grave Secrets by Kathy Reichs
"I am dead. They killed me as well."
The old woman's words cut straight to my heart.
"Please tell me what happened that day." Maria spoke so softly I had to strain to catch the Spanish.
"I kissed the little ones and left for market." Eyes down, voice toneless. "I did not know that I would never see them again."
K'akchiquel to Spanish, then reversing the linguistic loop, reversing again as answers followed questions. The translation did nothing to blunt the horror of the recitation.
"When did you return home, Senora Ch'i'p?"
"A que hora regreso usted a su casa, Senora Ch'i'p?"
"Chike ramaj xatzalij pa awachoch, Ixoq Ch'i'p?"
"Late afternoon. I'd sold my beans."
"The house was burning?"
"Your family was inside?"
I watched the speakers. An ancient Mayan woman, her middle-aged son, the young cultural anthropologist Maria Paiz, calling up a memory too terrible for words. I felt anger and sorrow clash inside me like the thunderheads building on the horizon.
"What did you do?"
"We buried them in the well. Quickly, before the soldiers came back."
I studied the old woman. Her face was brown corduroy. Her hands were calloused, her long braid more gray than black. Fabric lay folded atop her head, bright reds, pinks, yellows, and blues, woven into patterns older than the mountains around us. One corner rose and fell with the wind.
The woman did not smile. She did not frown. Her eyes met no one's, to my relief. I knew if they lingered on mine even briefly, the transfer of pain would be brutal. Maybe she understood that and averted her gaze to avoid drawing others into the hell those eyes concealed.
Or perhaps it was distrust. Perhaps the things she had seen made her unwilling to look frankly into unknown faces.
Feeling dizzy, I upended a bucket, sat, and took in my surroundings.
I was six thousand feet up in the western highlands of Guatemala, at the bottom of a steep-sided gorge. The village of Chupan Ya. Between the Mountains. About one hundred and twenty-five kilometers northwest of Guatemala City.