Tuesday, December 11, 2012 |
Actress Emily Deschanel plays Dr. Temperance Brennan, Kathy Reichs' alter ego, in Bones, the television show based on Reichs' books. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Bones Are Forever is the title of Kathy Reichs's latest book -- and "forever" might well describe how long her popular mystery series could go on. It's the 15th book in the series, with no end in sight, and the TV spinoff, Bones, is now in its eighth season, which is an eternity in television terms.
The fictional crimes are influenced by Reichs's experience as a forensic anthropologist at Quebec's Laboratoire de sciences judiciares et de medécin légale in Montreal. She has consulted on homicide cases all over the world. Reichs is also a professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Reichs's alter ego in the books is Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist who investigates suspicious deaths. In Bones Are Forever, Brennan discovers the remains of three infants, and the story takes her from Montreal to Edmonton and Yellowknife.
Bones is the title of the TV series, and the word is often in the title of Reichs's books. What can bones tell us?
"Bones can tell you a lot of things. I work on cases in which an identity might be unknown, or cause of death might be unknown," she said to The Next Chapter host Shelagh Rogers in a recent interview. "If it's identity, it can tell you the age, the sex, the race, the height, a lot of individual characteristics of an individual, were they right-handed, left-handed, did a woman have babies, that sort of thing. As for cause of death, anything that will leave its mark on bones, such as stabbing, bludgeoning, or gunshot."
Reichs said that working on a case involves "a balancing act" between maintaining scientific objectivity and feeling personally involved. "You're a scientist, you have to be able to observe and record, and not get emotionally involved," she said. "But you can't help wondering, after you've taken off your scientist hat, you kind of wonder about the individual as a person."
That feeling of personal connection is particularly strong when the victims are children. "At the time I started the book I was simultaneously working on three child homicide cases, so the death of innocence was very much on my mind," Reichs explained. "Those are tough cases. You try to stay detached and objective, but with some cases that's harder than others. And children, the really innocent victims, those are the hardest."
Bones Are Forever begins with Brennan's discovery of three murdered infants. It's disturbing terrain, to say the least. When asked if there are cases so difficult she wouldn't draw on them for her fiction, Reichs said no. "Anything is fodder for fiction -- people I meet as characters, or a setting that I visit," she explained. "I always change all the details from cases, all the names and the places, for legal as well as ethical reasons. So there's not much that I'm unwilling to touch, really. The books are for entertainment, though, so I do want the storyline to be engaging for the reader."
The books are also informative in terms of revealing what goes on behind the scenes in an investigation. Reichs believes that's an important aspect of forensic thrillers. The readers of the genre "like to learn a bit. They don't want a textbook, they don't want a lot of jargon," she said. "But I think they want to come away thinking, 'Well, I learned a little about DNA or blood spatter patterning' or whatever it happens to be."
Reichs became interested in using Yellowknife as a setting after being invited to the NorthWords Writers Festival there. She was intrigued by the terrain, and by the history of the gold mines, which closed down in the 1990s but are still dealing with the arsenic left behind from the smelting process. She even went down into one of the closed mines. "Of course when I heard about abandoned gold mines, underground tunnels, barrels of arsenic," she said, "I thought this is a perfect setting for a scene in one of my books."