Temperance Brennan is back!
Author and screenwriter Kathy Reichs needs no introduction. She is back with her latest mystery novel featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. It was a thrill to interview Kathy and to hear her read from A Conspiracy of Bones.
At this challenging time, when so many of us are spending more time at home, we can be comforted in the knowledge that there are always great books to read. It’s always a joy for me to bring you these interviews with mystery authors, but these days I am especially grateful for all the writers who create riveting stories for us. Long may that storytelling tradition continue!
This Week’s Mystery Author
Kathy Reichs is the author of 20 novels in the bestselling Temperance Brennan series, which was the inspiration behind the long-running television series Bones. She is also co-author of the Virals young adult series with her son, Brendan Reichs.
From teaching FBI agents how to detect and recover human remains, to separating and identifying commingled body parts in her Montreal lab, Dr. Reichs has brought her own dramatic work as a forensic anthropologist to her mesmerizing thrillers. She is a native of Chicago, where she received her Ph.D. at Northwestern, and now divides her time between Charlotte, NC and Montreal, Quebec.
To learn more about Kathy Reichs and her books visit KathyReichs.com
Press play (above) to listen to the show, or read the transcript below. Remember you can also subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts. And listen on Stitcher, Android, Google Podcasts, TuneIn, and Spotify.
You can also click here to listen to the interview on YouTube.
#1 New York Times bestselling author Kathy Reichs returns with a new riveting novel featuring her vastly popular character forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan, who must use all her tradecraft to discover the identity of a faceless corpse, its connection to a decade-old missing child case, and why the dead man had her cell phone number.
It’s sweltering in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Temperance Brennan, still recovering from neurosurgery following an aneurysm, is battling nightmares, migraines, and what she thinks might be hallucinations when she receives a series of mysterious text messages, each containing a new picture of a corpse that is missing its face and hands. Immediately, she’s anxious to know who the dead man is, and why the images were sent to her.
An identified corpse soon turns up, only partly answering her questions.
To win answers to the others, including the man’s identity, she must go rogue, working mostly outside the system. That’s because Tempe’s new boss holds a fierce grudge against her and is determined to keep her out of the case. Tempe bulls forward anyway, even as she begins questioning her instincts. But the clues she discovers are disturbing and confusing. Was the faceless man a spy? A trafficker? A target for assassination by the government? And why was he carrying the name of a child missing for almost a decade?
With help from a number of law enforcement associates including her Montreal beau Andrew Ryan and the always-ready-with-a-smart-quip, ex-homicide investigator Skinny Slidell, and utilizing new cutting-edge forensic methods, Tempe draws closer to the astonishing truth.
But the more she uncovers, the darker and more twisted the picture becomes…
Interview with Kathy Reichs
Alexandra: Fantastic. Thank you so much. Just beautiful.
I noticed Tempe sort of alludes to the fact that she’s going rogue in this book. Can you tell us a little bit about what’s happening there?
Kathy: Her boss was murdered, as is referenced in this first chapter in a short story called First Bones. It appeared in The Bone Collection. So she has a new boss.
It turns out this new boss and Tempe have history. Years earlier, the new boss, a woman named Margot Heavener, is a pathologist, a good one. But she also writes books in her spare time. And in those she refers to herself as Dr. Morgue.
They’re compilations of case studies that she’s worked on. And she gave an interview years ago with a rightwing conspiracy theorist, wing-nut type provocateur, radio and podcast product provocateur. And Tempe criticized her for it.
So years later, it turns out that Margot Heavener has now been hired in Charlotte and is Tempe’s boss, and she has barred Tempe from the lab. She says she will never allow Tempe to work there again. So Tempe becomes involved in trying to identify this faceless corpse. We can talk about that, but she has to do so outside the system because Heavener has exiled her.
Long answer to your question.
Alexandra: No, I love it. That’s great.
I noticed in the book’s description that it does talk about how there is the headless and or faceless corpse that that she discovers or yet she’s driving home.
Kathy: As Chapter 2 opens, she’s driving home. She’s just dropped her mother off from attending a symphony performance. And she receives three texts. And the texts contain images of a corpse that is lacking its face, its dentition, its hands. So she doesn’t know who these texts came from.
But obviously some is giving her a heads up about a case that should end up being an anthropology case because you can’t identify this person visually. He hasn’t got a face. You can’t use fingerprints and you can’t use dental records. So someone’s giving her a heads up, but she does not know who the texts came from.
Alexandra: One of the things I wanted to ask you is this: you’ve been writing about Temperance Brennan since 1997.
How do you kind of keep the stories fresh? Both the plots of the of the mystery and the things that are going on in her life as a writer. How do you tackle that?
Kathy: That’s absolutely necessary because if you don’t keep it fresh and keep her evolving and put her into new situations, she’s no longer going to be very engaging to the reader. They’re going to say, well, that’s just same old, same old. Here’s a forensic scientist discovered some bones and she figured out who they are and solved the mystery.
That’s part of the reason in this book that Tempe has got these other stressors, as she calls them. There’s other things going on, one of which she’s been diagnosed with a brain aneurysm. It was unerupted. She had surgery for it. And it’s fine now, but she has to take medication.
So another one of the themes of the book is can she trust her own perceptions? How much of what she’s seeing is real and how much of it is caused by these migraines she’s suffering and or the medications she’s taking in?
A kind of parallel in the story that is brought forward subsequently in the book is the fact that you can get on the radio and get on a podcast, you can get on the air, as it were, and say anything. And how does the average person sort through all of the alternative facts?
That’s where the title comes from. Also is this conspiracy theorist blogger that does reappear later in the story.
Hopefully that makes it somewhat timely.
Alexandra: Yes. Yes, exactly. And as you said, she’s evolving. And so as we evolve, there are new things that we encounter, new things you can write about about her life.
You’ve mentioned specific medical issues that she’s having. And I had a question written down about the challenges that Tempe faces and whether or not they’re sometimes similar to yours. I don’t mean in terms of physical health, but in terms of life challenges.
Do you find that that occurs?
Kathy: Sometimes we’re a lot alike, certainly professionally. And the challenges she faces professionally, although I’ve never been barred from from the lab. But the challenges she faces in trying to pursue an investigation, we certainly face those same challenges.
The idea of dealing with a difficult colleague, I’ve faced those challenges, but I’ve also tried to give her unique characteristics all her own. The fact that she’s a recovering alcoholic, I’m not recovering at all. So that’s strictly her.
The fact that she’s got this on again, off again relationship with Andrew Ryan, she’s a bit frightened of commitment. She was stung in her first marriage because Pete cheated on her. Those are strictly hers. I’ve been married to the same guy for since the paleo era. So that’s strictly Tempe characteristics, right?
Alexandra: One of the things I noticed you mentioned in the chapter that you read is you called her the igneous rock of emotion.
Kathy: Yes. She feels things. But she turned out to show them. And I think she and I share that very much. She tends to try to keep things to herself. And she’s not one to enjoy talking about feelings. She’s not one of those warm, fuzzy types. Let’s talk about things.
Alexandra: I’m going to take a slight pivot not.
You’ve been away from her for a little while. The last book was released in 2016. And it’s 2020 as we’re talking now.
Was that an intentional break or were you doing other things?
Kathy: Let me say, there were a couple of things that I did in there. I was also writing episodes for the TV show. And I was also somewhere along the way, I don’t know all my dates, but I did the young adult series with my son. So it was really pretty overwhelming.
At one point I was doing an adult book, a young adult book and a screenplay every year. So I took a year off. So you’re right. There was a gap year in there when I did not release and I did not tour. So I’ll be anxious to get back out there on the road.
Alexandra: Really? Wow. You like it? So you like meeting with fans.
Kathy: I’m going to be doing a Canadian tour and a U.S. tour and a UK tour. I was just about committed to an Australian tour but the coronavirus has me a little hesitant to want to do extraordinarily long international flights. So I probably won’t do that. But I do like it.
I hate the travel. Nobody likes it, right? Let’s be honest. Airports are hell. But I do like it there.
Alexandra: So you’ll be in Canada. Will you be near Montreal?
Kathy: I’ll be doing both. I’ll be doing a French language in Montreal when the book is released in French in April. The English language will be primarily in Ontario and then in Calgary, but they’ve just asked if I could also do an English language event in Montreal.
Alexandra: One of the things I wanted to ask you about, too, was co-writing. We’ve mentioned the series that you co-wrote with your son Brendan, and then you’ve written a short story with Lee Child as well.
How how is that different from writing yourself? What’s the process like with your son? Do you go back and forth? Do you plot it out together, that kind of thing?
Kathy: We did a lot more plotting and outlining than I normally do because I was with someone else. And also that’s the way he works. He he has now gone on to do two or three other series. He dumped me and went on to his own series. But he actually puts up a big board and has colored cards.
He’s an outliner. I’m not so much. But when I was working with him, we did do outlines and then he would write the sections he was better at, like the young adult jargon, what kids think, or what their social concerns are, how they talk. And I would write the sections I was better at, like the forensic science. At a middle school, high school level, of course, in those books.
Then we would get together and I would print out sections and then I would edit it and then we would get together for editorial meetings and he would accuse me of destroying his art and I would go through the changes and we would work it out.
We had some a few heated moments. Not usually. It really did go very well.
Now with Lee, there was none of that. We just did it all by phone. And he would do the Jack Reacher parts and I would do the Temperance Brennan parts. And then we melded them together. And I think Lee did the final editing. I’m not sure if he did. Or anyway, it was so smooth. It was so easy.
Alexandra: Working with your son, it must have been, working with a child who’s now an adult. I imagine that was a nice added element to your relationship.
Kathy: Well, he’s also a lawyer and a litigator. So that added a little element to our discussion.
Alexandra: I bet.
I was thinking about just before our call, Steven Pressfield, who wrote The War of Art, for any listeners who don’t know. He talks about how when we’re writing the books that we’re writing or making the art that we’re making we’re not always aware of the global themes that are there. If we take a step back, sometimes we can see it, but not always.
But often other people can see the themes that that run through our work.
Other than justice, can you think of some other themes that run through your work generally?
Kathy: Well, I have tried in many books to bring in issues of social concern, the things that concern me. I did a book on trafficking in endangered species, for example, Bare Bones.
I did a book on trafficking, human trafficking, was one of the books. So I do try to have it a little deeper than just a slasher story or serial killer after serial killer.
I do try to to go into, as we would call in and writing in Hollywood, go into different worlds and bring the reader into these different worlds, the world of the Acadian culture or the world of human rights work.
Grave Secrets took place in Guatemala. Bring in more serious political issues, but still in the context of writing a murder mystery, because that’s what they are. They’re good old fashioned thrillers, good old fashioned murder mysteries. The difference is that solutions are driven by science rather than just light work and intuition.
Alexandra: Right. It sounds to me like those those issues go with the theme of justice. Justice for humans. Justice for the environment, that kind of thing.
Kathy: Yeah. And it’s not just justice for the victim, but justice for those around the victim. Those that are impacted by the violence that has occurred to the victim, the families, and also the people that have to clean up the mess.
Those of us that are the cops and the scientists and the prosecuting attorneys, those of us that have to deal with the aftermath of violence.
Alexandra: We’re just about out of time. But I wanted to ask you just two final quick questions.
What’s next for you? You’ve talked about the tour and then are you planning another Temperance Brennan book?
Kathy: I’m well along in the next one, the 20th one. A Conspiracy of Bones is number 19, so I’m working on number 20. I don’t know how much to reveal. My feelers are out there.
I’m trying to look for issues that are going to be issues or in the public consciousness down the road. Things that I’ve seen, things that I read about that I think is going to be an issue.
Maybe when the book comes out, which, it was a year or two years down the road. So it’s been hard to do.
What can I say without giving away too much? The idea came to me when I began reading about the Human Genome Project and how quickly how rapidly that how much faster than anticipated the human genome was was mapped. So it’s going to look into that world.
Alexandra: Oh, fun. That’s great. I’m thrilled to hear you’re working on another one. That’s awesome.
And then finally, what are you reading? Any great mystery novels that you’ve read lately or are reading now that you love?
Kathy: I always go blank when I’m asked this. And it wasn’t a mystery novel. I just read Margaret Atwood The Testament’s which is the sequel to Handmaid’s Tale.
I’ve got a Lee Child on my on my bedside table. So I’ll be reading another Lee Child mainly because I’m going on vacation with the family, all the kids and grandkids. And I want something that I can just chill out and relax and escape by reading.
Alexandra: Yes. Oh, nice. Well, that’s great. This has been amazing, Kathy. Thank you so much for chatting with me today. And we should let listeners know they can find out everything about your books and you. Kathy Reichs dot com, correct?
Kathy: That’s correct. And let me add Kathy Reichs, I think on Twitter.
Alexandra: A Conspiracy of Bones is out in March 17th, 2020.
Kathy: That’s it. Right.
Alexandra: All right. Thanks again so much.
Kathy: Thank you. Bye-Bye.