Author finds suspense, impact from ‘Bones’

Piecing together the past by examining bones was a thrilling mystery to solve.

But Kathy Reichs was presented with a unique opportunity through her expertise in anthropology — what is she could use her skills to solve crimes, and make an impact in people’s lives in the present?

Reichs pivoted her career, transitioning to work in forensic anthropology. Her work has ranged from teaching FBI agents how to detect and recover human remains, to separating and identifying commingled body parts in her Montreal lab. She has traveled to Rwanda to testify at the UN Tribunal on Genocide, and helped exhume a mass grave in Guatemala. She assisted in the recovery of remains at the World Trade Center following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

From her work, Reichs created the Temperance Brennan series of mysteries, revolving around the work of a renowned forensic anthropologist. Her novels were used as the basis of the hit television show “Bones,” which ran for 12 seasons and is still the longest-running scripted series on FOX.

Her most recent book, “Cold Cold Bones,” puts Brennan in the middle of a string of unexplained killings plaguing North Carolina. The book comes out on July 5.

On becoming a forensic anthropologist

“I trained to do bio-archaeology, to look at ancient skeletons, archaeology-derived skeletons. But since I was the ‘bones’ lady at the university, cops started bringing me cases. My very first case was a little girl who had gone missing, and three months later, some bones were found, and sure enough, it turned out to be her.”

The difference between forensic work and archaeology

“I did find that doing the forensic work was a lot more relevant. You can impact people’s lives. That wasn’t true with archaeology; it was fascinating, but you’d publish articles in scientific journals and 12 people read them. It didn’t change anyone’s life. I liked the idea that with forensics you could give families answers and testify in court if there was criminal activity involved.”

Using that experience to start writing novels

“I had just made full professor at the university, so I was free to do whatever I wanted to do. I didn’t want to write another textbook or journal article. Since I like reading thrillers, and I sensed that forensic science was kind of the beginning of being in the air, so I decided to give it a shot. I had just worked on a serial murder case that has some very interesting elements.”

On the process of writing that novel

“I had no training in creative writing, but I told myself I’d try. It took me two years to write it, because I was teaching full time and commuting back and forth between the Carolinas to Quebec. I had to write it on weekends and early, early in the morning and on summer vacations. But I tried to write the book that I liked to read.”

Presenting Brennan’s world for a general audience

“It’s a challenge, and it’s a challenge many academics and scientists fail to meet. They love their science, so they want to put lots of it in. You can’t do that. Readers want to learn something, they read forensic thrillers because they are interested in the science and want to learn something, but they don’t want a lecture. They don’t want to read a textbook. So you have to keep it brief, you have to keep it exciting, and you have to keep it jargon-free.”

On traveling the country on book tours

“I really enjoy it. It’s really fun being there. It’s not so much fun getting there. I’m looking forward to meeting people in Franklin and the different places on the tour. It’s going to go well.”