Mystery: The Bone Vault

February 12, 2007 at 9:27 pm | Posted in Bone Vault, Dove, Fairstein, mystery | Leave a comment

Dove, G. (1997). The Reader and the Detective. OH :Bowling Green State University Press.   Fairstein, L. (2003). The Bone Vault. NY: Scribner. bone-vault.jpgI read The Bone Vault (2003) by Linda Fairstein as a recent example of a mystery/detective series narrative. The detective, Manhattan Assistant DA, Alexandra Cooper, is the alter-ego of the author, who served 25 years as a DA in the NYC sex crimes unit.  Like Fairstein, Alex or “Coop” is a blonde divorced workaholic in her mid 30s, who is endearingly relentless, funny, a devoted friend  and smart (as evidenced by her Jeopardy bets with two detective sidekicks). 

The Bone Vault is the fifth of nine Cooper procedural mysteries, linked by their metro NY settings and exploration of the seamy underbelly of the city’s cultural elite maneuvering through the worlds of art, theater,medicine and anthropology. Their narrative strength lies in the author’s compelling descriptions of legal and forensic puzzles. In contrast, the author’s interweaving of clues into the plot is often heavy-handed as are her descriptive passages designed to offer glimpses into the psychological machinations of the main characters. 

Dove’s (1997) typology describes a 7-step basic plot for detective fiction: problem, first solution, complication, period of gloom, dawning light, solution, explanation.

 1.The Problem in The Bone Vault is the discovery of a miraculously preserved woman’s body in an Egyptian sarcophagus at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The victim was a South African woman in her 20’s, a medieval art scholar employed by the Met who apparently died from arsenic poisoning.

2.The first solution leads the reader to suspect the French Met Director Thibodaux of the murder, inferring it was to conceal an affair. The Director initially claims ignorance of the victim’s identity, though he had worked with her in Paris and at the Met. He abruptly resigns his position and presents a lame explanation for why the victim was wearing his dead wife’s cashmere sweater.

3. The Complication is introduced when the victim’s friend and museum colleague Clem discloses that the two women were on a secret mission to reclaim human Inuit bones awarded to the museum by plundering European explorers.   

4. The Period of Gloom occurs when the detectives go down many literal dead ends (secret corridors and vaults at the museums) and figurative dead ends as they interview a parade of employees at the Met and its exhibit partner, the Museum of Natural History. There are long tedious sequences and the detectives are about to be freezed out of access to the museum.

5. Dawning Light occurs when they use Clem as bait at the Met to flush out the killer. When Clem disappears, the detectives realize she’s been kidnapped by the killer.

6. Solution Coop’s sidekick Chapman is the one who identifies the murderer as museum curator Poste or Van de Poste : the South African son of one of the infamous bone-snatching explorers.). 

7. Explanation The sketchy explanation is that the victim was being slowly poisoned by Poste to force her to abandon her pursuit of the human bones and return to South Africa. When Katrina discovers humiliating details about the explorer in a diary, Van de Poste kills and stuffs her in a Met sarcophagus (details unspecified).  

There is an ironic connection between the first puzzle and the focal mystery, It is revealed that Met Director Thibodaux resigned because he illegally procured museum artifacts, relying on unscrupulous black market traders. His behavior mirrors Van de Poste’s reprehensible treatment of native artifacts and their sacred remains.   


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