The Great Hall hosted Kathy Reichs’s visit to Queen’s Institute for Collaborative Research in the Humanities. She was launching her anticipated new novel, Bones never lie. One of the most prominent American writers in Crime Fiction, she is, too, a forensic anthropologist and academic. She is a professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and she works for the Laboratoire des Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale of the Province of Québec. She is also a member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.
Her first novel, Déjà Dead, features the character of forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan. She has an Irish Name (which she shares with a very fine Northern Irish Crime Writer). As she remarks when we first meet her, in the first pages of Déjà Dead, her first name, Temperance, rhymes with France. She is American, speaks perfect French, and even, she notes, le Français Québecois. She works for the Laboratoire de Médecine Légale
of the province of Quebec in Montreal. She tells the story in the first person and, like the author, divide her time between America and Quebec. Dr. Temperance Brennan makes a good case for the benefits of learning a Modern Language, to improve your careers prospects and transform your life. When she wants to change her life, get a new start and break free from addiction, it comes handy that she can work in a French speaking professional environment.
Déjà Dead, won the 1997 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel. Kathy Reichs has since published 20 further novels, which have been translated into 30 languages. She has been a producer for the hit TV series Bones, based on her (to date 17) Temperance Brennan novels.
11 titles feature the word bones in it, including the title bare bones, and bones are forever : and a title is 206 bones. And the new book Bones Never Lie, which was published last week, is the new instalment in this series. With a material as proverbially dry as bones, Reichs makes very compelling books. As immensely readable as their subject might seem hermetic and arcane Reichs’s books makes a good case to show that forensic novels are, within the crime genre, the most pedagogical. They have to teach the reader many things he does not know. While the average reader of crime fiction has an average knowledge of crime and police, based on TV, and other readings, the readers of forensic crime fiction by contrast, is often confronted with lab procedures seldom seen elsewhere. Reichs’s books inform them with little known biological and medical data; they discover new technologies, and new words. It is in this sense entirely apt that Temperance Brennan is bilingual. Her novels foster a sort of flexibility of mind and a willingness to learn facts, idioms, terminology, which is similar to acquiring a new language.
And of course, her commitment to readability and the act of reading is always double. It contains a self-reflexive comment on the meaning of reading, as the text we are reading shows us someone engaged in a process of reading too. T. Brennan reads bones, and like any reader of old texts, she makes dead persons speak.