Kathy Reichs: A hurricane, an outbreak and the unsolved murders in her new book, “The Bone Code” (“1on1 with Jon Evans” podcast)
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Kathy Reichs was already busy in 1996. She had a fulltime career as a Professor at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. She had her Ph.D. in Physical Anthropology and had attained the highest recognized level of certification from the American Board of Forensic Anthropology. Married, with three children expressing interest in attending private colleges, the aspiring author decided to use some of her precious free time to write a book.
“I had just worked on a serial murder case which had some very interesting elements to it, so I had the core idea for a story,” Reichs said during an interview from her family home in Isle of Palms, South Carolina. “So, I thought, I had a colleague who was riding paperback novels on the side and making a little income. So, all of those things kind of came together and I said ‘I’m gonna try this. I’m gonna give it a shot. I’ve never written fiction’. I promised myself I’d finish the book. I did it in secret, it took me two years because I wrote it in the morning before I’d go onto campus or during weekends or vacations, that kind of thing. That’s how Deja Dead came about.”
Reich’s first murder-mystery featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan became a New York Times bestseller, won the 1997 Ellis Award for Best First Novel, and launched as career still going strong more than two decades later.
“I was just thinking maybe someone will just publish this book,” Reichs says looking back at the debut. “I was just an unknown fiction author and I wasn’t thinking much beyond that.”
Reichs has just released The Bone Code, the 20th book in the bestselling Bones series. In it, the Charlotte author has Brennan dealing with a hurricane, a disease outbreak in South Carolina, and the discovery of two bodies that have the fictional forensic anthropologist harking back to an unsolved case from her past. While many of the books in her series have come from her own cases, Reichs describes The Bone Code as being “ripped from the headlines”.
“We now have the whole human genome mapped,” she says. “We have tools that can edit the Genome, CRISPR. I read a little story about a doctor in China who against all ethical agreements took our knowledge, he took that technology, and went ahead and altered the genomes of two unborn babies. So, I read that, and I thought, ‘Huh, that’s an interesting premise. What if someone did that for nefarious reasons, for not honorable reasons, for profit or whatever?’ That’s kind of what kickstarted the whole process of me asking myself what if this, what if that.”
Reichs says it takes a year for her to write her books, and they are a year in production. She started writing The Bone Code before COVID-19 took hold in the United States and around the world. During the final editing stages, she says her editor suggested putting something in the story to reference the pandemic, which Reichs did. In the book, Brennan travels to Quebec to work on an unsolved case from fifteen years ago. That mirrors Reichs’ career of working in Canada. She serves as a forensic anthropology consultant to Quebec’s prestigious forensic science laboratory, the Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale. She has also consulted for the Medical Examiner’s Office in Mecklenberg County and for the North Carolina’s Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Chapel Hill. She uses her experiences to educate readers about the processes used by experts to solve the complex cases.
“I write murder mysteries, good old-fashioned murder mysteries,” she says. “But the difference is, the solutions are driven by science. So, I do put in details about science. I try to keep it short because people don’t want to read a textbook. but I think they want to learn something along the way. So, I do put in details. I stay away from jargon that we would use amongst ourselves as specialists. Hopefully it’s a little educational and understandable.”
Fans also enjoyed Temperance Brennan as part of the Bones television series, which ran from 2005-2017 on Fox, becoming the longest-running scripted drama series in the network’s history. Reichs worked as a producer on the series and wrote several of the episodes. After fielding several offers to take her character to the small screen, Reichs felt her conversations with (Executive Producer) Barry Josephson and (Writer and Showrunner) Hart Hanson landed on the same page.
“We wanted a character-based show, not another police procedural,” is how she describes their collective vision for Bones. “We wanted to create characters that people would become invested in, that people would care about. I liked the idea that was Hart’s of doing a gender role reversal where Seely Booth, the man, typically he’s the one who was emotional, who leads by his gut. Whereas Temperance Brennan, the female, is the one who is logical and insists on hypothesis formation and testing. We kind of reversed those gender stereotypes. We thought it would lend itself to comedy, and it did. I put humor in my books, and they wanted to put humor in the show. I had a great experience. I think our writers were fantastic, our producers were beyond wonderful. Emily (Deschanel) was brilliant and what she did with that role. The chemistry between Emily and David (Boreanaz), you can’t make that up. We did 246 episodes so apparently what we were doing was working.”
Along with writing the 20 books in the Bones series, Reichs has worked with her son Brendan to co-author eight books in the Virals series, which feature Temperance Brennan’s niece Tory. There are also companion works and short-story books with both characters. Plenty of options for new readers to devour. I asked Reichs to share her recommendation on where newbies to her catalog should begin.
“I usually say it depends on how your mind works,” she offered. “If your mind is linear, and mine tends to be, I like to read things in chronological order. So, I would tell them to start at the beginning with Deja Dead. If that doesn’t matter to you, you can pick up any book because they’re all self-contained stories. You don’t need to read any of them before or after. If you like to be au courant, I would pick up the most recent one, The Bone Code. Start with that one, see if you like it, then you can always go back and read earlier ones.
I enjoyed getting to know Kathy Reichs during our interview, learning more about the process of writing the Temperance Brennan books and creating the Bones television show. The Bone Code is available now at all major booksellers. Pick it up, it’s a great read!
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