Author Kathy Reichs on Her Latest Mystery and How Canada Has Influenced Her Writing
Best-selling author Kathy Reichs recently released her 19th novel in the Temperance Brennan mystery series, ‘A Conspiracy of Bones.’ Photo: Marie-Reine Mattera
Kathy Reichs is grounded.
The best-selling mystery writer whose novels have sold more than five million copies since she published Déjà Dead in 1997, is stuck at her North Carolina home, unable to travel to Canada for a scheduled book tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Remaining stationary, however, isn’t something the 71-year-old is used to doing. The success of her Temperance Brennan mystery series routinely takes her around the world on book tours, not to mention the time she spent on the set of the hit TV series Bones, based on the books. Reichs was both a producer and occasional writer on the show, which ended in 2017 after 12 seasons. Then there is Reichs’ original job as a forensic anthropologist, which saw her work everywhere from the aftermath of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks to testifying at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to solving cases with Quebec’s forensic science laboratory in Montreal. So staying put isn’t really her thing.
“This is a long stretch for me,” she says over the phone from North Carolina. “I was just texting with [Bones star] Emily Deschanel last night. We were all talking about what we’re doing while we’re hunkered in.”
For Reichs, isolation activities include reading, giving fans on social media a look around her home office and, naturally, writing her next mystery. And she’s embarking on a virtual book tour to promote her 19th and latest Temperance Brennan book, A Conspiracy of Bones, which was released earlier this month.
In this book, Temperance goes rogue to solve a murder while dealing with the after-effects of surgery for an unruptured cerebral aneurysm — a procedure Reichs also underwent “not long ago” (she prefers not to specify when). But the health event does inform the theme of the book, which centres on attempting to decipher what is real and what is not — an idea that resonates on a personal level for the heroine who isn’t sure if she can trust her own mind and on a social level in an age of fake news and alternative facts.
Reichs spoke to Zoomer about A Conspiracy of Bones, how Canada has informed her work and her feelings on aging her famed heroine.
MIKE CRISOLAGO: Is it still as exciting to you today to release a new novel as it was back in 1997 when you released your first Temperance Brennan book?
KATHY REICHS: It is. And with every single one, you still wonder how it’s going to do. And especially this one because this is such an unprecedented situation. So I’m probably tracking this one with a little more trepidation than I have for several books in the past because we just don’t know. It’s such a different situation.
MC: What do you still enjoy most about writing this book series?
KR: I love making up names. [Laughs] I like doing the research because each of the books is driven by a different kind of science. I don’t want to just do bones every time. So it might be mitochondrial DNA that’s extracted from cat hair or it might be blood spatter pattern analysis or it might be bite-mark analysis. I’m an actual forensic scientist and I’ve worked in autopsy rooms and at crime scenes, so I have colleagues that I can call on to help me with the research into those areas that are not my expertise. So that’s a lot of fun.
MC: You’ve been writing Temperance for more than 20 years. What elements of the aging process, good or bad, that you’ve experienced do you incorporate into her character?
KR: One of the decisions you have to make when you’re writing a continuing character in a series is are you going to age them? Some authors of continuing character series choose to age their characters … whereas I have not. In the early books, I was a bit vague (about) her age. She’s somewhere north of 40, but I’m never really specific about it and I really haven’t aged her in real time. So she’s older than 40, obviously, but she’s not 20 years older than that. And her daughter started out, I think she was 13 and Katie’s now off in the army … I mean, [Temperance] makes comments from time to time that she’s got grey hair coming in and she’s not as limber or as spry as she used to be, but that’s about as far as I take it.
MC: You published your first book when you were about 49 years old. What advice would you offer to people at that age or older who want to write their first novel?
KR: My first piece of advice would be to write. Sit down and write, whatever form that takes — whether you keep a journal or outline a book or actually start writing the book. Also, there are a lot of books out there that have been published on how to write a novel or how to write a mystery. It can’t hurt to read some of those. I think what would be valuable that I never did is you could join a writer’s group. I would think most towns would have one, and members of the group help each other, and they read each other’s material and give feedback on each other’s material. So that’s another thing. There are also courses that are offered at universities on writing fiction that you could take. So all of those things would offer you some training and some guidelines on how to do it.
MC: You’ve worked for years with Quebec’s forensic science lab in Montreal and you were made an honorary member of the Order of Canada in 2018. How has your time spent in Canada over the years informed your work?
KR: I don’t think I could have written these books without all the work I did at the lab in Montreal. I began working there in 1988, so I put in many, many years and was exposed to many, many different things. And not just my own cases but cases that would be going on around me. Also, just travelling through Canada. I went to Yellowknife for a small literary festival and I was just struck by the place. So I set my book Bones Are Forever in the Northwest Territories and brought in diamond mining. Same thing [when] I went on tour to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and that whole area. I’ve brought that into some of the books also. So definitely, spending time in Canada has informed my writing very much.
MC: And you noted you’re also currently working on the 20th Temperance Brennan book…
KR: I don’t want to say too much about it. I’m doing a lot of reading on human genome editing. So that’s about all I’m going to say. I’m pretty much focusing on that right now.
A Conspiracy of Bones is available now.