The Globe and Mail Book Club moved online this week. Bestselling crime-fiction writer Kathy Reichs joined us to talk about her new novel, A Conspiracy of Bones, the 19th book in her Temperance Brennan series (which inspired the TV series Bones). Reichs – a forensic anthropologist who published her first novel in 1997 – joined us from her beach house on a barrier island off Charleston, S.C.; I was at my home in Vancouver and The Globe’s Senior Visuals Editor Patrick Dell kept it all running from his “virtual library" (a.k.a. his basement) in Toronto, even when Skype crashed on my computer – a moment that felt scarier (for me, anyway) than the creepiest details in Reichs’s page-turner.
We learned that Reichs is working on book No. 20 of the series, which will deal with human-genome editing and an infectious disease that gets out of control; it will take place in Montreal and is currently titled The Bone Code. She shared that making up her characters’ names is one of her favourite parts of the writing process – and she reads obituaries from the place she’s writing about for inspiration. And that she once gave a tour of the morgue at the Montreal laboratory where she worked to Margaret Atwood (who collaborated with The Globe last year to launch this Book Club) at the famed author’s request. “She wanted to see our facility. So I did. I was very nervous about it. My God, what if she faints and I’ve killed Margaret Atwood, Canadian treasure? But she found it fascinating, she loved it. She did not want to go to lunch after we left.”
Here is a brief edited excerpt from our interview.
When you wrote A Conspiracy of Bones, which was a couple of years ago, I’m going to assume that you did not imagine it would be launched in the midst of a global pandemic. But it is strangely resonant because a key central theme is: What is real? What is not? You write about these conspiracy theorists who are spouting ludicrous theories about, among some things, vaccinations. Where did the idea to dive into that weird world of conspiracy come from?
You put your finger on it. We’re inundated with all of this ludicrous disinformation and misinformation. Anybody can get on the internet or put up a blog or, you know, have a radio station and say anything they want. Or people in authority. It’s not just wingnuts [who] can say anything they want. So how does the average person sort through all of that and figure out what is real and what is not real?
So that’s kind of the theme of the book on two levels. On the broader level for the average citizen, how do you figure out what’s real and what’s not? How do I sort through all of this? And then for Tempe as well. Because she’s had some health issues. And for the first time ever, for her, she can’t completely trust her own perceptions. So she’s having to deal with what’s real and what’s not real. And at one point in the story, she loses all of her physical evidence. She loses her laptop, there’s a fire. So the only thing she has left to rely on is what’s in her head. And she can’t fully trust what’s in her own head.
Tempe is dealing with a medical condition: an unruptured cerebral aneurysm. She has surgery. And that has some other effects. In the afterword, you reveal that you too have been dealing with this medical condition and that you underwent surgery for it. I think we’re very used to having you borrow from your work life for these novels, but this felt like a new level of a personal loan from your own life. Why did you decide to share this condition with your protagonist, and then share it with your readers?
She’s always got problems, but I wanted her to have a new problem, and I just thought this went along with this theme of what’s real and what’s not real. And it’s very personal for her. I was diagnosed with an unruptured cerebral aneurysm a few years ago and we monitored it. It was just serendipitous; there were no symptoms. They were looking at something else and they said, “No, no, that’s fine, but by the way you have this little bubble on one of your posterior ascending arteries in your head.” So we monitored it. After a few years, nothing changed. And then after a few years, there was a minor change. What they do is they go in and they just put some little tiny platinum, I think, coils into it, and it just blocks it off. So it’s totally a non-event. But for Tempe, she is having issues postsurgically, and she’s having to take medications. She’s having migraines and she can’t always rely on what she remembers as a result of that.
Has that happened to you?
No. I had the surgery. It was fine. I’m fine. But I wanted to make it a little tougher for her.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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