Photos: Eyeballs (Yulia Reznikov/Getty Images); Cracked ice behind eyeballs (Boy_Anupong/Getty Images); Skeleton (DanielVilleneuve); Katie Reichs (© Marie-Reine Mattera)
Cold Cold Bones
In the 21st Bones book, Kathy Reichs, 74, revisits some of Temperance Brennan's past cases, and – gasp! – says she may retire from writing / BY Dene Moore / July 6th, 2022
Kathy Reichs has spent a lot of time on bestseller lists because she knows what makes a good thriller, and that means her heroine – and those she loves – are always in danger.
It’s a rule she’s certainly followed in her latest thriller, Cold Cold Bones, the 21st installment in her bestselling series about forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. “Tempe has taken her lumps over the series. She’s been thrown off a mountain and she’s been locked in a cellar, so I didn’t want to see her [in danger] this time,” Reichs says in an interview from her home in Charlotte, N.C. “What could be higher stakes than her daughter?”
In the latest book, Tempe’s daughter, Katy, is home after eight years in the U.S. Army. The mother and daughter are catching up when they find a human eyeball in a box on the back porch of Tempe’s North Carolina home. The gruesome clue leads to another grim discovery, and another, and another. As Tempe works out that each is a copycat crime from a case she’s worked before, Katy goes missing. The book is a review of sorts for some of the cases featured in the series that began in 1997 with Déjà Dead.
“I just thought it would be fun for my return readers to recognize some of the earlier cases and say, ‘Oh, yeah, I remember that,’ and also that it might inspire new readers to say, ‘Hey, I want to go back and read those,’” she says. “I also thought it was just an interesting way to have Tempe take a look at herself and take a look at her work over the years.”
Fans will be pleased to see the return of Katy, as well as former detective Erskine “Skinny” Slidell – one of Reichs’ favourite characters to write – along with Temperance’s on-again, off-again love interest, Montreal detective-turned-private investigator Andrew Ryan. They will also be happy there is a fleeting Canadian connection in the book, as there often is in Reichs’ series, which was born in Montreal.
In the early 1990s, Reichs – a forensic anthropologist like her protagonist – was teaching at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte and taking a French class when she heard a professor at Concordia University in Montreal wanted a one-year exchange with her university.
“I thought, well, yeah, I speak French now. I had one semester,” she says with a wry humour familiar to fans. While she was teaching at Concordia (and also McGill University), the Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciaries et de Médecine Légale in Montreal was looking for a board certified forensic anthropologist, still a rarity in those days. She applied, and when her exchange year ended, she continued to work for the lab, travelling to Montreal every six weeks or so. She has also been a board member of the RCMP’s National Police Services Advisory Council, and was named an honorary member of the Order of Canada in 2018.
Reichs began to write the Bones series during her time in Montreal, inspired by her casework and, she has said, the murder of Ottawa journalist Louise Ellis, whose remains she examined after they were discovered in Wakefield, Que.
“I just really appreciated and enjoyed the supportive nature of the lab there in Montreal. I chose that as the setting [for Déjà Dead]. I also thought it would be a setting of interest to American readers, a very large audience, that it was close enough to home that they’d be comfortable with it, but different enough – French enough, I guess – that it would be a bit exotic.”
Montreal and Canada have been featured in the series several times, as well as the Northwest Territories and Atlantic Canada. The next book, due to be published next summer, starts in Montreal, where Tempe and Ryan have a home together.
Reichs, 74, is retired from teaching and casework. “I have more time to write. When I began the series, I was teaching full-time at the university and I was commuting between North Carolina and Canada, so I really had to squeeze it in the first couple of books.”
With decades worth of work to draw upon, she never lacks for ideas, although she does think about retiring from writing. After publishing A Conspiracy of Bones in 2020, The Bone Code in 2021 and Cold Cold Bones this year, her next book will be the last under her current contract with Simon & Schuster.
“I hear about people around me doing it. Lee Child just did and others I know – not writers – are retiring,” she says. “And I now have six grandkids from ages six to 12, and I would like to be freer to spend more time with them. So, I think about it. Assuming they offer me another contract, I’m going to have to think about what I want to do.”
After Reichs tours Ireland this summer with her three children and six grandchildren, she expects to be in Canada soon after for a book tour.