If you’re familiar with the television show Bones (that ran on Fox between 2005 and 2017) you may be aware that the series was loosely (and I do mean loosely) based on her novels and that she was a technical adviser for the show. Her first novel, Déjà Dead, was published in 1997 (and it won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel. Since then, she’s gone on to pen over 30 novels (to date).
Her main series of books feature a forensic anthropologist named Temperance Brennan (as does the television show – although it’s safe to say that the two characters are not the same). She’s also written a series of Spin-Off novels aimed at younger audiences that feature said characters niece.
Kathy Reichs has admitted that she shares a lot in common with her protagonist, most notably that they have the same CV. Both worked as an adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina (although she is currently on leave). Both are affiliated with the Laboratoire des Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale in Quebec, Ontario, Canada. Both are certified by American Board of Forensic Anthropology and both are on the board of directors for The American Academy of Forensic Science.
Why I Like Kathy Reichs
There’s an old saying among writers that they should “write what they know”. Sure, it’s not a steadfast rule, but in this case it is certainly true. In this case, it gives her novels a sense of authority and authenticity that you don’t always get in crime fiction. I’m not trying to suggest that there is anything wrong with mystery writers who don’t have a solid background in forensics (either the scientific or legal nature of forensics), the art of detection, or whatever. I think the only qualification for being a crime writer is the ability to group words into coherent sentences, although I have read a few crime stories where even that was an issue.
It’s no secret that Reichs gets much of her inspiration from the cases she’s been involved with in her professional life. Yes, she writes fiction and the reader shouldn’t ever get the idea that any of her characters are based on real people. Rather, the tools her protagonist uses to investigate crimes are things she’s familiar with because she’s used them, the actions our heroine takes while investigating are things she’s done, you get the idea.
Where To Start Reading
If you want to start reading, I’d highly suggest starting with her first novel, Déjà Dead. Tempe Brennan is called in to help the investigation when a mostly decomposed body is found in a Canadian seminary. What she discovers isn’t necessarily the same as what the detectives believe, so when she begins her own investigation, it becomes clear she’s putting her own life on the line, as well as that of those she loves.
While reading the books in the order published is usually a good deal, you can pick up any book in the series and you won’t get lost. That being said, as the series of books progresses, so do the characters. They grow professionally as well as personally. Friendships come and go, and it surely has been interesting to see how these relationships develop, for good or not-so-good.
Another thing to consider is that several of her books, The Virals series, are geared for much younger audiences. This was no doubt to illustrate how fascinating science can be to younger minds, but adult readers may find these stories a little too juvenile. (The Virals all have special, superhuman, nearly paranormal abilities.)
In 2016, she penned a stand-a-lone novel, Two Nights, featuring a new protagonist, Sunday Night (yeah, really, that’s the characters name). I haven’t read the entire book yet, but so far no familiar characters have appeared.
The Novels v. The TV Show
The Bones television show centers around a young Temperance Brennan employed by the Jeffersonian Institution and is called in as a physical anthropologist to help solve mysteries. The show is full of running gags, quirky characters, and was a lot of fun to watch.
In the novels (which came before the Television show) Tempe is a bit older, and none of the quirky characters from the show are present. It honestly seems as if it’s two versions of the same character.
Both the show and the books are awesome on their own – just don’t expect to know what one is going to be like based on the other.