First the Dead: A Bug Man Novel
by Tim Downs
Publisher: Thomas Nelson; First Edition edition (January 8, 2008)
My Rating: 4.25 of 5.0
When a national disaster strikes, "first the living" is the rule.
Unless you're the Bug Man.
When Hurricane Katrina strikes New Orleans, forensic entomologist Nick Polchak signs up to help with the recovery effort. He is known as the Bug Man for his knowledge of insects and what they can reveal about the dead. The government's mandate is clear—rescue the living first, recover the dead later.
But something is very wrong in the toxic soup-bowl of post-Katrina New Orleans.
Someone is using the cover of disaster to kill . . . hiding the victims of murder in the same watery grave as the victims of Katrina.
It's a tale only the dead can tell. But no one besides the Bug Man is listening.
" . . . stands out from the pack of CSI-inspired mysteries with its quirky hero and creative handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster."
—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
Nick Polchak is a forensic entomologist more commonly known as “the Bug Man”. He studies the bugs (maggots, larvae and flies) that inhabit, grow and feed off of dead bodies. He is able to determine time of death, location and many other details if he gets to the bugs early enough. Nick is often called in as part of a DMORT (Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team) when there is a crisis like an airplane crash or natural disaster where bodies have to be recovered and identified. This time the team has been called in to set up on the edge of New Orleans to help deal with the expected disaster of Hurricane Katrina. The order has been given that everyone, including Nick, is to help rescue the living first and worry about dead bodies later.
Nick isn’t happy about the order to ignore the dead as he knows that forensic evidence on the dead bodies will quickly deteriorate in the flood conditions left behind by the hurricane. He tries to comply with the order but when he discovers two bodies that he suspects did not die in the hurricane, but before it, he can’t stop himself from trying to preserve the evidence. But someone else clearly doesn’t want him preserving any evidence or poking his nose into unexplained deaths found in the flooded homes.
Nick is a very brusque and dry character – a singular loner. The DMORT psychologist, Dr. Beth Woodbridge, would love to figure Nick out but he is clearly, adamantly unwilling to cooperate with analysis. I really enjoyed the forensic elements of this story and the mystery. I also found the history of Katrina’s impact on New Orleans very fascinating. There is also detailed description of meth addiction which was all new to me.
Not all of my ladies’ book club members liked this. However, I think any reader who enjoys CSI type shows or novels should enjoy this book and series. Of course, that assumes that the reader isn’t turned off by bugs. Although I got the book at deep discount through Christianbooks.com I did not really find anything more than a sentence or two that might be considered to touch on faith. One of our book club ladies has read more books in the series and said that some of the others do have some faith references. I would be interested in reading more in this series.
This was purchased for Ladies' Book Club discussion in October. I will count it towards my TBR since I have had it since 2014.
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