PW: This is the sixth book in the Temperance Brennan series, which means you have to face that gremlin that all serial novelists must face—how to keep their series fresh. What's your take on it?
Kathy Reichs: Well, there are certain things you have to repeat, for people who are picking up this book first, but you don't want to rehash. So there are certain details to repeat, but in new ways, and that's one challenge. You also don't want the story to repeat. I don't want to do one serial-killer theme after another. I'm looking at violence from different perspectives. In the first book, there was a serial killer; in the second, it was a cult; the third is bikers (violence for profit); the fourth is a plane crash; the fifth is human-rights issues.... So in each one I'm trying to bring in a different perspective as the main theme of the story line. Also, there are difference sciences. Each story is driven by what I think of as a core bit of science. In the first one it was mainly my own field, bones, but also bite-mark analysis. The next one I used bugs (entomology). The next one I used blood spatter pattern analysis; the next one was volatile fatty acids in determining times of death. Also, you want to develop your characters, so that you get to know Tempe better with each book.
PW: There's been a groundswell of popular interest in forensic science as applied to crime. Where do you think this interest comes from, and is it in fact new?
KR: Everyone's always been interested in murder mysteries. What's new is the scientific aspect—that they're not solved by deductive reasoning, but empirically. I think people are exposed to it constantly. They're seeing it on television, they're hearing about it on the nightly news. Beginning maybe with the OJ trial, we were inundated with it on a daily basis. People heard about DNA and blood spatter and angle of wounds, and I think they became curious as to how that all works.
PW: You're at the pinnacle of an increasingly prominent group of female novelists in the thriller/mystery genre who have some sort of professional background in law enforcement or its associated trades (e.g., forensic science). How do you view this, and where do you think it's going?
KR: I don't think it's unique. You have John Grisham, who's a lawyer who started writing books, and Michael Crichton, who's a doctor and began writing fiction. So I don't know that it's unique for the ladies. Perhaps it's our greater presence in those fields, in law, and in science, specifically forensic science in law enforcement. I guess it would make sense that a certain number of us would make that leap over to writing fiction.
PW: There's been an inevitable comparison between you and Patricia Cornwell, despite the differences in your writing styles. What's your take on the perception of you both as competing within the same ME-as-sleuth genre?
KR: Well, we do write in a similar genre. She has to be credited with being the first, if not one of the first, to write in that genre. I agree that our writing styles are different, our characters are strikingly different. But comparisons are inevitable, because we both write about the ME context, we've both created fortyish female protagonists working in that context, but I think there the similarities end.
PW: Tempe Brennan works both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. Do MEs have jurisdiction to do so?
KR: That's what I do. I'm sitting right now in Montreal. Last Thursday, I was in Charlotte [N.C]. The jurisdictions do not overlap whatsoever. I work as an independent consultant to each of those jurisdictions. Most forensic anthropologists function that way. I work on a contract, on a per-case basis.
PW: How about the difference in publishing scenes?
KR: I'm published by Scribner in New York, I'm not published in Canada. I have, I think it's now 29 publishers, so I've gotten to know my publishers in the U.K., France, Germany, South Africa... it does work differently in different places. That's a contrast I enjoy very much as well, the contrast between the literary world and the lab world.