Up Close: Kathy Reichs
Kathy Reichs on Returning to Bones
By Dawn Ius
It’s never an easy decision for an author to take a writing hiatus—not when you’re dealing with a series character, and especially when that character is as well-known as Temperance Brennan, the plucky forensic anthropologist at the heart of Kathy Reichs’s New York Times bestselling series.
But for Reichs, it wasn’t so much a decision as a necessity strongly encouraged by her physician. While Reichs is quick to assure that she’s “good” on the health front now, the hiatus did create what she calls a “gap year”—12 months in which there was no new fiction from Reichs. No standalone thriller. No cowritten young adult book with her son. And no Tempe Brennan.
“It was different, because I’ve been publishing a book a year since 1997,” she says. “I thought I would be bored taking a year off—I was not. I was very busy. But I missed connecting with readers.”
It would seem the sentiment goes both ways. A CONSPIRACY OF BONES—the 19th book set in Tempe’s impressive lab—has earned early praise, including a couple of starred reviews from the trades. But if readers are expecting the same Temperance Brennan as Reichs left her in 2016’s The Bone Collection, well…things are a bit different this time around.
Reichs—a renowned forensic anthropologist—admits that each of the Bones books is inspired by a case she has worked on, though the names and many details are often changed. But in A CONSPIRACY OF BONES, the parallels between Tempe and Reichs go a bit deeper.
In the book, Tempe, still recovering from neurosurgery following an aneurysm, is suffering migraines, nightmares, and hallucinations when she starts receiving anonymous text messages, each with a picture of a corpse that is missing its face and hands. While her recovery may have left some of Tempe’s skills a bit hazy, her curiosity is razor sharp—even before the dead body shows up, she is anxious to know who this man is, and why these messages are being sent to her.
There’s just one problem. Tempe’s new boss is determined to keep her off the case, and to get the answers to her questions, she is forced to go rogue. Exiled and stripped of her usual resources, Tempe must rely on her gut to solve this case—but that proves more difficult than she anticipates when she starts questioning her own instincts.
“For the first time in her career, she can’t rely on her own perceptions,” Reichs says. “What she’s finding is that she’s having to rely on her colleagues, the network of people she’s built over the years. And what bothers her more than her migraines and hallucinations is that because she’s been exiled, she’s worried that she’s going to bring her colleagues down by dragging them into this.”
Reichs has never been exiled—in fact, though she takes on few real-life cases these days, she has been called in for some of the most difficult forensic work of the last few decades—and she never experienced hallucinations, but she can relate to the migraines. It was one of the factors that contributed to her taking some time off. And for anyone who has suffered from them, Reichs’s descriptions are painfully accurate.
While Reichs did take some liberties with Tempe this time around, A CONSPIRACY OF BONES retains all of the hallmarks fans have come to expect from a Bones book—accessible but factual science, a fascinating case inspired by a real-life crime (Reichs provides a thought-provoking and informative Author’s Note at the end of the book), and layers of conflict that keep the pages turning.
“There’s definitely a lot going on in this book,” Reichs says. “And I had a lot more time to work on it—so maybe it’s a bit more polished?”
Hard to imagine given the attention to craft in each of Reichs’s books, but she admits that she had some reservations about writing a new Tempe book, a niggle of worry that perhaps readers would respond negatively to the fact that she took some time off, or even that now with the Bones TV show wrapped up, fans will have forgotten or gotten tired of her.
“But then, everything I was reading on Twitter…it seemed that readers wanted her back,” Reichs says. “And I’m not done with her either. She’s an appealing character—globally. She’s sold in something like 39 languages, and the TV show was available in more than 100 foreign territories. Sometimes, I would just sit and wonder, how does she appeal to viewers or readers in China? Or Bulgaria?”
The majority of that appeal is due to the fact that Reichs created a formidable character, but another factor is the global appeal of crime-inspired books, movies, and TV shows. For every CSI that ends, another media darling makes an appearance—and that has been both a blessing and a curse, Reichs admits.
“Ah, the CSI-effect,” she says, with a light laugh. “We have some high expectations of science thanks to how it’s sometimes portrayed on TV, but the truth is, you’re not always going to get the forensic evidence in every case, the DNA or whatever it is.”
Reichs tried to manage that “CSI-effect” when it came to the Bones TV show—as a consultant, she ensured that the science conducted in Tempe’s TV lab was as authentic as it could be. With the success of the series—in both formats—it’s sometimes hard to remember that Reichs is a scientist first. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to tell a good story.
Which A CONSPIRACY OF BONES absolutely is.
“The bottom line is, it’s a thriller,” Reichs says. “Hopefully it keeps you engaged and guessing and wanting more.”
Thankfully, there will be, at least, a 20th book. A CONSPIRACY OF BONES isn’t just a glorious homecoming for fans, it also marks Reichs’s return to Scribner—the Simon & Schuster imprint that published Reichs’s first Temperance Brennan novel, Deja Dead. The two-book deal also represents the first time Reichs’s books will be published globally by one publisher—Scribner, Simon & Schuster Canada, and Simon & Schuster UK.
It’s already proving to be a very busy year.
“I’m not necessarily looking for airports and travel,” she says. “But once I get there I will enjoy seeing readers again.”
No doubt, readers are looking forward to reconnecting with Reichs—and of course, her beloved Tempe.
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