Sun, Sand, and a Series of Murders
By R.G. Belsky
THE BONE HACKER—Kathy Reichs’s latest in the best-selling series featuring famed forensic anthropologist Temperance (Tempe) Brennan—has an unusual opening line for a thriller: a lyric from Bob Dylan’s Mr. Tambourine Man.
But it all makes perfect sense very quickly in this fast-moving story which starts with the mysterious death in Quebec of a man believed to have been struck by lightning; takes Tempe to the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean where a series of men have been found murdered or gone missing; and then reveals a terrifying cyber plot in which she must stop a new technology from causing worldwide havoc.
What if, I asked myself, a rogue programmer developed powerful spyware with a malicious goal that could impact missions?
“Several ideas came together as I was trolling for an idea for this book,” Reichs said in an interview with The Big Thrill. “I kept coming across reports on the dangers of identity theft and other forms of cybercrime. What if, I asked myself, a rogue programmer developed powerful spyware with a malicious goal that could impact missions?
“About that time, my daughter, Courtney, invited me to accompany her and her sons, Miles and Cooper, on a vacation to the Turks and Caicos Island, one of my favorite places on earth. Oh, yeah! I had my theme. I had my setting. I was off to the races. Well, off to the keyboard.”
Much of the focus in THE BONE HACKER, of course, is on Temperance (Tempe) Brennan herself, the brilliant forensic anthropologist who solves baffling murder cases. This is the 22nd book in the series, which has also been the inspiration for the popular, long-running TV show Bones.
But Reichs said she certainly had no expectations of that kind of success back in the ’90s when she wrote Deja Dead, her first Temperance Brennan book.
“Absolutely not. I hoped the story would be interesting enough and well-written enough to attract a publisher. That, if my book was published, readers would like the character and the special expertise she brings to crime fighting. I guess that worked out OK.”
How has Tempe changed—and also remained the same—over the course of the series?
“Obviously, she’s aged, though I’ve always been vague on just how old Tempe is. Her relationships have evolved. With Katy, her daughter. With Ryan, her partner professionally and, at long last, romantically. She and Ryan now live together on both ends of their geographically complicated lives. But I think Tempe remains true to the character I originally created. She is intelligent and tough but with a sense of humor, especially about herself. She started out approachable and remains so.”
In THE BONE HACKER, Tempe finds herself working with a new partner—a quirky local police detective in Turks and Caicos named Delroy Monck. Their working relationship is wonderful, even if it gets off to a rocky start!
“You’ve nailed it,” Reichs said when we asked her about Tempe and Monck. “Things are tense at first, but eventually, the two come to realize that they make a good team. Though Monck is an odd duck and an enigma in many ways, Tempe learns to appreciate his knowledge of the islands and of the locals who live there. He admires her doggedness and commitment to finding the truth. By the story’s end, I suspect that Tempe and Monck have actually grown fond of each other.”
Why did she decide on the Caribbean setting of the Turks and Caicos Islands for THE BONE HACKER?
“I have been to the Turks and Caicos many times. My family has vacationed there. My daughter was married there. The islands are spectacular, with turquoise water and bone-white sand. But I had to do my research with regard to the darker side of paradise and those who police it. Fortunately, I had the help of Lisa Mitcheson, former superintendent of police, head of crime, and public protection for the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force. Lisa’s assistance was invaluable.”
Reichs has had a long career in real-life as a forensic anthropologist, just like Tempe, and she brings her authentic work experience—both in the academic world and being involved in real life crime cases—to her thrillers.
She says she has put some of herself into the character but that the two are very different in many ways, too.
“Clearly, Tempe’s genius is based on myself. Ha ha! Seriously though, people who know me say that she and I have a very similar type of dry (sarcastic?) wit.
“Professionally, she’s me. She works for coroners and medical examiners. She studies bones and other compromised human remains. Many of the activities in which she engages are based on my own casework and my experiences at forensic labs and in autopsy rooms. While actively working forensic anthropology cases, I didn’t go out into the field nearly as much as she does. Tempe is a bit more adventurous than I am.
“I suppose she and I are both very logical. We both love to solve mysteries. We both own cats.
“When creating the first novel, I didn’t want my protagonist to be perfect. I wanted her to have flaws. So, I wrote her as a recovering alcoholic. That is strictly Tempe’s thing.
“Sadly, I never worked with any detective as cool as Ryan.”
Besides writing the Temperance Brennan books, Reichs has also been busy in many other areas in the past—working in the medical world as an advisor, testifying as an expert in court cases, and even writing young adult books with her son.
“Right now, professionally, I’m focused on the Temperance Brennan series,” she said. “Socially, my life is delightfully boring. I play pickleball. I spend time with my grandkids, my family, my friends. I go to my beach house with my dog and my cat. Quite mundane stuff.”
What’s next as an author for Reichs?
“In August, I will be touring with THE BONE HACKER. I missed doing that during the Covid years and look forward to interacting with my readers. To talk with them face to face and not via Zoom, although there may be some of that as well. I’ve just signed a new contract with Scribner, my publisher, for two more books. I am hard at work on the first of those, a new Temperance Brennan adventure tentatively titled Fire and Bones. The release is scheduled for August of 2024.”
Oh, and yes, we did ask her about that Bob Dylan lyric at the beginning of THE BONE HACKER. Is she a Dylan fan? “Isn’t everyone a Dylan fan?” she said. “Doesn’t the whole world groove on Lay Lady Lay or Don’t Think Twice? Or am I aging myself?”