No 'Bones' about it Forensic anthropologist thrilled to be writing thrillers

By Kurt Anthony Krug

Legal News

Forensic anthropologist Dr. Kathy Reichs writes mystery novels featuring forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan, which have been adapted into the TV series "Bones."

In turn, on "Bones," forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan played by Emily Deschanel writes mystery novels featuring forensic anthropologist Dr. Kathy Reichs.

"We've done several episodes that have poked fun at that. We actually had one where her book was made into a movie and the character's name was changed again, so that's another layer of meta. It was like looking into mirrors," said Reichs, who lives in Charlotte, N.C. with her husband Paul, a retired attorney.

One of only approximately 100 forensic anthropologists ever certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology and an anthropology professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Reichs has an undergraduate degree in anthropology from the American University in Washington, D.C., as well as both her graduate and doctoral degrees in physical anthropology from Northwestern University in Evanston.

"Professionally, she's based on me, that's for sure. There was a growing interest in forensic science back in the early 1990s when I started thinking about writing the first book (1997's 'Deja Dead'). I wanted to write a thriller, but I wanted it to be science-driven rather than police legwork and gut instinct, that sort of thing it just made sense. People are interested in bones. Even our pathologists love to do the bones cases. All of that came together to make an appealing central theme," said Reichs. "It would be a way to bring the science of forensic anthropology to a broader audience. Nobody had heard of it when I started the first book, but I think that's changed a little," she added, laughing. "So all of it came together and I thought I'd give it a try and write the type of book I'd like to read."

Reichs was on a book tour that swept into Michigan last month. She signed copies of her latest novel "Bones Never Lie" - the 17th in the series that was released September 23 at No. 4 on the New York Times Best-Seller List - at the Ann Arbor District Library on Sunday, Oct. 19, and the Metro Detroit Book & Author Luncheon on Monday, Oct. 20.

"Bones Never Lie" features the return of Anique Pomerleau, the villain from the 7th novel Monday Mourning.

"There's only one book in the seriesâ?¦ in which the villain gets away at the end. It was based on a case I worked on in Montreal, where bones were found in the basement of a pizza parlor," explained Reichs. "In ('Mourning'), the villain gets away and that has always bothered our heroine and (Montreal police detective) Andrew Ryan."

A decade passes and Brennan is called into an unscheduled meeting of the Charlotte Police Dept. Cold Case Homicide Unit, where a detective from Vermont is present.

"He's found parallels between an unsolved child homicide he's been working on for years and a case in Charlotte. It looks like both of these young girls have been killed by the same person, and perhaps this person is the same villain who got away a decade earlier," said Reichs.

One of the challenges Reichs faces is keeping Brennan and co. fresh and exciting.

"You have to keep your characters evolving and changing. You have to keep the relationships evolving and changing. One of the hard things of having continuing characters in a series is you have to reintroduce the basic premise and core characters every time because that book even if it's the 17th one - may be the first one the reader has picked up. So you have to reintroduce those characters and the premise, but - on the other hand - you have to do it differently in every single book so you don't bore your returning readers," she explained. "That gets more and more challenging. I don't think it should be straight narrative 'I'm a forensic anthropologist, blah blah blah...' You have to weave it in and find different ways to do that the thought processes in her head while she's trapped underground, she's imagining writing her autobiography because she's in a boring faculty meeting and needs something to distract her some new and creative way to reintroduce those core ideas."

In addition to writing the "Bones" novels and co-writing the "Virals" novels with her son, Reichs serves as a consultant and producer for the TV series "Bones," which is based on her work. The show created by Hart Hanson, starring Deschanel and David Boreanaz as FBI Agent Seeley Booth just began its 10th season on FOX. It debuted in 2005 and is one of FOX's longest-running scripted TV series.

"I have input. It's not control, but it's input. I read every script. I give feedback. That involved a lot more work in the early shows, whereas now the writers are so conversant in forensic anthropology, they can do their master's theses," said Reichs, laughing. "They're very good with the terminology, the technology, and the science behind it too. I don't do nearly as much submitting of notes as I did in the early years."

Bones will celebrate its 200th episode later this season with Boreanaz directing.

"When we did the 100th episode, Emily gave a toast 'Here's to another 100 episodes' and I almost choked," recalled Boreanaz, laughing. "I'm fortunate to be directing it. I'm excited about it. It's definitely gonna be different. Stephen Nathan and (Hanson) are gonna be writing it."

Reichs was amazed at the fan outpouring over the death of Dr. Lance Sweets (John Francis Daley) on the September 25 season premiere.

"Whenever you kill off a character and introduce another character, you always take some heat for that. But the level of reaction surprised me a bit," said Reichs. "(Daley) is moving on... he's directing a film right now. It wasn't that we decided to cut him out; he chose to move on with his career."

There are many differences between Brennan on TV and Brennan in the novels. The most obvious is there's no Booth in the novels; he was created for the show. Reichs has no plans to introduce him.

"I don't even know what the legality of that would be because this character was created by Hart Hanson and owned by FOX," she explained. "I'm not even sure I'm free to do so, so I don't have any plans to do that."

Whereas the show occurs in Washington, D.C. at the fictional Jeffersonian Institute Medico-Legal Lab, the novels jump from Charlotte and Montreal.

Still, Reichs praised Boreanaz.

"(David's) brought a lot to the character. One of the main ideas of the show is the difference in approach to crime-solving. On the one hand, you have (Brennan) who insists on science, hypothesis formation, and observation and experimentation. On the other hand, you've got Booth who believes in gut instinct and good old-fashioned police work. He's more emotional," she said. "Tempe and Booth are the opposite of what's expected of stereotypical male-female characteristics. The difference in approach to crime-solving makes for good conflict and good humor. I think David's been very good at that, laughing at himself in the character."

Boreanaz added: "The way (Booth) does things is not by the book. He's pretty much an instinctual kind of guy. He reacts with his gut."

Reichs "couldn't be happier" about Deschanel's portrayal of Brennan.

"Emily works hard to get it right, especially in the early years. She would have so many questions 'How do you reconstruct the skull? How do you pronounce this?' She really worked hard to get it right and she's been fantastic as this version of Temperance Brennan," said Reichs. "It's a younger version of Temperance than in my books. I think of the TV show as a prequelâ?¦ it's her early years. She's younger, less polished, less sophisticated, her people skills need some work. If you were to binge-watch Bones over the 10 seasons, you would see that character evolving and changing and developing a lot of that is thanks to Emily."

Published: Tue, Nov 04, 2014