Dr. Kathy Reichs is the woman behind Temperance Brennan both onscreen and in print. A member of a rare field of forensic anthropologists, board certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, Reichs works for the office of the Chief Medical Examiner in the state of North Carolina and for the Laboratoire des Sciences Judiciaires et de Medecine Legale for the province of Quebec. She is also Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. But she has become best known for her series of books about fictional forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennnan. And that success has led to a television series being made that is inspired by her life and her books. It was not exactly the path she initially saw herself pursuing.
“I actually trained to do archeology,” Reichs explains. “And I was doing that. I was working with ancient skeletons and then the police started bringing me cases. Today there is a formal process of board certification as with all the other forensic specialties, but back then that wasn’t the case. When the police found bones, they didn’t really know what to do with them, so they just took them to this bone person, the anthropologist out at the university, and that’s how I started getting cases; that’s when I made the shift. I just found doing the forensic anthropology more relevant. It wasn’t quite as esoteric or academic as archeology: you could actually impact someone’s life.”
Reichs’ reputation in her field grew, along with her experience. In the course of her career, she has testified on the UN Tribunal on Genocide in Rwanda, helped identify bones found in mass graves in Guatemala (as Brennan is returning from doing in the pilot episode of Bones), and worked at Ground Zero in New York after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Accompanying her field and lab work, she has also published nonfiction books on forensic anthropology. But all that wasn’t enough for her.
“I didn’t want to do another journal article,” she says. “I didn’t want to do another textbook that would be read just by my colleagues. I’d made full professor, which meant I was pretty much free to do what I wanted; so, I thought it would be fun to write fiction – to try something different. And I would also be bringing my science to a broader audience.”
The first book in her series was released in 1997, and was titled Deja Dead. It followed Dr. Temperance Brennan, the director of forensic anthropology for the Province of Quebec (and a recent transplant from North Carolina), as she worked to solve a case that only she considered to be the work of a serial killer. The book became a New York Times bestseller, won the 1997 Ellis Award for Best First Novel and evolved into a series of successful novels following that character.
It was those books, and a documentary that was produced which explained exactly what it is that Dr. Kathy Reichs does for a living, that caught executive producer Barry Josephson’s eye and ultimately led to the creation of Bones. Rather than just taking Reichs’ books and putting them on television, the producers decided to focus on her real life work for their inspiration, whilst adding a sprinkling of her fictional character, Temperance Brennan, into the mix. “She is a forensic anthropologist by day, and that’s based on my character in my book,” explains Reichs. “But in her off time, she writes novels – and that’s based on me.” Furthermore, just to add to the complex twisting of fiction and reality, the name of the character in TV Brennan’s novels? Dr. Kathy Reichs.