Just as 200,000 fans are pouring into town for Race Week, a body is found in a barrel of asphalt next to the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The next day, a NASCAR crew member comes to Temperance Brennan’s office at the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner to share a devastating story. Twelve years earlier, Wayne Gamble’s sister, Cindi, then a high school senior and aspiring racer, disappeared along with her boyfriend, Cale Lovette. Lovette kept company with a group of right-wing extremists known as the Patriot Posse. Could the body be Cindi’s? Or Cale’s?
At the time of their disappearance, the FBI joined the investigation, only to terminate it weeks later. Was there a cover-up? As Tempe juggles multiple theories, the discovery of a strange, deadly substance in the barrel alongside the body throws everything into question. Then an employee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention goes missing during Race Week. Tempe can’t overlook the coincidence. Was this man using his lab chemicals for murder? Or is the explanation even more sinister? What other secrets lurk behind the festive veneer of Race Week?
A turbocharged story of secrets and murder unfolds in this, the fourteenth thrilling novel in Reichs’s “cleverly plotted and expertly maintained series” (The New York Times Book Review). With the smash hit Bones about to enter its seventh season and in full syndication—and her most recent novel, Spider Bones, an instant New York Times bestseller—Kathy Reichs is at the top of her game.
Q&A with Dr. Kathy Reichs
In this bonus Q&A, the scribe behind Tempe Brennan takes questions on NASCAR, extremist groups, Tempe's love life, and the difference between writing a novel and penning a script for the TV show Bones on FOX.
Q: Flash and Bones begins with the discovery of a body in a barrel of asphalt in a dump next to the Charlotte Motor Speedway, and characters from the racing world become implicated in the drama. What drew you to NASCAR as a backdrop? Are you yourself a racing fan?
A: Prior to writing Flash and Bones, I had only passing knowledge of auto racing, having attended one event way back in the gray dawn of history. But almost every Charlottean knows a player in the game--be it a team owner, a mechanic, a sponsor, or a driver. It's hard not to get caught up in the excitement each May and October when hundreds of thousands converge on our burg for big races. Like Daytona or Darlington, Charlotte is an epicenter for the sport. And, as Tempe explains in the book, stock car racing originated with bootlegging in the Carolina mountains during Prohibition.
I ended up writing NASCAR into the novel because of my long-time friend Barry Byrd, himself a huge racing enthusiast. Each time I began a new Temperance Brennan novel Barry would suggest that NASCAR would provide a rich background for a story. I finally realized he was right. Barry offered to introduce me to Jimmy Johnson and his team, to take me to the track, to include me with the gang attending the All Star Race and the Coca Cola 600.
Barry followed through on that promise. I met track owners and managers, sports journalists, pit crew chiefs, and fans who had driven their Winnebagos from Portland, Houston, Teaneck, and Nashville. Thanks to Barry and the Smith family I enjoyed a top to bottom tour of the Charlotte Motor Speedway. My fascination with the adjacent landfill was, I fear, a source of some dismay.
Q: Flash and Bones takes place entirely in Tempe Brennan's hometown of Charlotte. Spider Bones, on the other hand, begins in Montreal, where Tempe occasionally works, then moves to Hawaii. Other books have taken Tempe to Chicago, Israel, and Guatemala. How do you decide where to set your next novel? In what city do you spend most of your own time these days?
A: Setting is a living, breathing part of each story I write. When Tempe travels, her destination is always a place that I know well, one in which I have plied my trade or spent time doing research.
I work and live in Charlotte, so Tempe does too. Like her, I am a commuter, shifting regularly from North Carolina to Quebec, where I consult to the Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale in Montreal. Yep. I have the mother lode of frequent flier miles.
In Spider Bones Tempe heads to Hawaii to pursue a case for JPAC, the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command, the United States military facility dedicated to identifying the remains of servicemen and women who have died far from home. Easy choice. I consulted for this lab for many years.
In Grave Secrets Tempe exhumes a mass grave in Guatemala. In the year 2000 I was invited to do the same by the Guatemalan Foundation for Forensic Anthropology.
In Bones to Ashes a case takes Tempe to Tracadie, New Brunswick. This setting was suggested by an exhumation and analysis I performed for an Arcadian family living in that province.
In 206 Bones Tempe flies to Chicago. Another no-brainer. That’s where I was born.
You get the idea. It’s better to observe first hand than to make things up.
Q: Another dominant theme of Flash and Bones is right-wing extremism, a subject about which you've written before. Members of a white supremacist group figure as suspects in the book. How did you become interested in these factions of American society?
A: Extremist ideas do not offend me. In my view, people are free to believe what they will. Extremism that hurts others offends me greatly.
In Cross Bones I wrote of religious extremism--belief systems that refuse to accept the legitimacy of differing worldviews. In that story events take Tempe to Israel and bring her into contact with fringe groups who use violence to impose their ideologies and customs on others.
Political extremism can be equally dangerous, whether coming from the left or the right. In recent years hatred and intolerance have led to deadly attacks by domestic terrorists in the United States. Ted Kacyznski, the Unabomber; Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the Oklahoma City bombers; Eric Rudolph, the Olympic Park bomber. Such individuals choose to kill their fellow citizens based on their own warped definitions of morality.
After years on the run, Rudolph was arrested while digging through a dumpster in western North Carolina, about a four hour drive from Charlotte. I wondered who else might be hiding in the woods and back roads of my state. In Flash and Bones, I imagine a group of people who come from the extreme mold of Eric Rudolph and his narrow-minded brethren.
Preferring comfort in numbers, some right wing fanatics form clubs or militias. That's the case in Flash and Bones. Tempe is drawn into the world of an extremist group and must learn their philosophy and decipher their code of conduct in order to determine their role in a cold case that disturbs her greatly.
Q: Over the course of Flash and Bones, Tempe develops a flirtatious relationship with Cotton Galimore, the head of security at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Her old flame, Lieutenant-Detective Andrew Ryan, and sometime suitor and Charlotte attorney Charlie Hunt only make minor appearances in the story. How do you decide what Tempe's romantic life is going to be like in each novel? Can you give readers any hints about where it might go in the future?
A: It's true. Tempe's love life is in a bit of a muddle. Andrew Ryan is preoccupied with his daughter Lily, who is in drug rehab. And miles away. Charlie Hunt is absorbed in a complex legal case. Miles away in another sense.
Enter Cotton Galimore, strong, intelligent, and smoking hot. Sadly, Galimore's past isn’t exactly spick and span. Joe Hawkins distrusts him. Skinny Slidell loathes him. And the guy is cocky as hell.
But the heart wants what the heart wants. Inexplicably, Tempe is drawn to the disgraced ex-cop. Is Galimore really as bad as her colleagues say? Should she steer clear as everyone advises?
Nope. No spoilers here.
Q: Flash and Bones, as with all your books, contains unique forensic twists: the body found at the dump is lodged in a barrel of asphalt, which Tempe must painstakingly dismantle. Later, chemical tests at the CDC reveal the presence of a surprising toxin in the remains. What was the inspiration for these forensic discoveries? Have you seen such corpses in your real-life work, or, in writing your novels, do you imagine the strange possibilities of homicides you haven't yet encountered?
A: I am like a scavenger, always on the lookout for a snack. But instead of food, it's criminal twists I’m after. I keep my eyes and ears open for interesting characters, bizarre case elements, and cutting edge science. A Temperance Brennan plot may derive from any number of sources.
Starting point. I draw ideas from forensic anthropology analyses that I perform myself. My own cases.
Move one circle out. The LSJML (my Montreal gig) is a full spectrum medico-legal and crime lab. While there I am able to observe what goes on around me, to learn about the newest thing in ballistics, toxicology, pathology, or DNA.
Continue outward. Forensic scientists love to talk to each other about their cases. Colleagues often suggest ideas for Temperance Brennan stories based on investigations in which they have been involved.
Occasionally a plot twist is inspired by a presentation I attend at a professional conference. The annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences provides particularly rich fodder. Articles in research journals also get the old brain pumping.
From my own case load, and then from conversing, listening, watching, and reading, I get what I think of as "nugget" ideas, my core story concepts. Then, for both legal and ethical reasons, I change everything--names, dates, places, personal details. I then play the "what if?" game, and spin the nugget off into multilayered fiction.
Q: In addition to writing the Temperance Brennan novels (and now the young adult novels featuring Tempe's niece), you’ve also written a script for the FOX series Bones, based on your books. How does writing a TV script differ from writing your novels? Is one harder than the other?
A: I am a producer on Bones. One of many. Just look at our credits. Mainly, I work with the writers, answering questions, providing bone clues, correcting terminology. Over the course of six seasons, I have read more than one hundred and thirty scripts. Though a television script is quite different from a book, there is some commonality.
For me the similarity between a Temperance Brennan novel and a Bones teleplay lies in structure. My books typically have a lot going on--an A story, a B story, maybe even a C. Ditto a Bones episode.
In Flash and Bones Tempe is asked to identify a body found in a barrel. That's the A story. Simultaneously, she is drawn into the search for a missing teenage couple. The B story. And, all the while, there's her complicated love life. C story.
In the season five Bones episode that I wrote, "The Witch in the Wardrobe," two sets of remains are discovered in a burned out house. The witch in the wardrobe turns out to have been dead for quite some time. A story. The witch under the foundation is identified as a recent homicide victim. B story. Angela and Hodgins go to jail (and love rekindles). C story. The structures are very similar, you see.
On the other hand, a novel and a script differ in many ways. For example, with film or television there's no need for detailed description of setting or action. Those features are right there in front of your eyes. A screenplay or teleplay is all about dialogue, character, and story line.
Another difference involves the creative experience. When I write a novel, I am the stereotypical loner working at my keyboard in isolation. No one helps me. No one approves or disapproves my work. Not so the television writer.
Once a story idea (kind of like my "nugget" concept) is accepted, the next step is called "breaking the story." For one to three weeks the entire Bones writing staff brainstorms together, hammering out an outline act by act, scene by scene, working on erasable white boards that cover the walls of the writers' room. The process is collective, and it is exhilarating.
(The Bones writing team is awesome. Josh Berman, Pat Charles, Carla Kettner, Janet Lin, Dean Lopata, Michael Peterson, Karine Rosenthal, Karyn Usher. Thanks for your patience, guys.)
The completed script outline is then "pitched"--in the case of Bones to Hart Hanson, our genius creator and executive producer.
Once the outline is approved, the writer then "goes to script." That means back to the lonely keyboard to produce what is called the writer's draft. That stage takes one to three weeks. Unless the show is behind schedule. In that case, well, good luck.
Then there are re-writes. And more re-writes. Studio draft. Network draft. Production draft.
In the end it is amazing to see your episode actually being shot, with all the actors, the director, the gaffers, the grips, and the best boys. Lights! Camera! Action!
Almost as amazing as seeing your baby on the printed page.
“Reichs imbues this fusion of past and present with her signature blend of forensic know-how and deeply felt characters.”—Publishers Weekly
“Reichs knows what her readers like, and she has another hit with Flash and Bones…a compelling read that will appeal to anyone who likes reading forensic thrillers.”—Associated Press
“Welcome to Bones 101…writing novels seems to be embedded in [Reichs’] family's DNA. “—USA Today
“A fine entry in a consistently solid series.”—Booklist
“Reichs has crafted a novel likely to appeal to NASCAR lovers as well as thriller aficionados.”—Charlotte Observer