Kathy Reichs Essay - Critical Essays


In Kathy Reichs’s mystery novels, it is undeniably true that art imitates life: Science and fiction are inextricably intertwined, just as they are in the author’s life, and details in the novels come from cases in which she was involved or ones that caught her attention through the media. Reichs’s writing graphically reveals the very elemental and gruesome elements of her real-life work as a forensic anthropologist, pairing an engaging and unselfconscious character with an expertise in the science and technological methods that are critical to finding the answers and solving the mystery. Reichs was quoted as saying that the appeal of forensic anthropology was that it bought the science and the mystery together.

Reichs’s work is as much defined by her choice of venue as by her lead characters, graphic descriptions, and twisted plots: Montreal and North Carolina provide dynamic backdrops for the twists of plot and escapades of Tempe Brennan. Reichs peppers the text with French and regional idioms to set the scene, an effort that is fairly effective for an audience ignorant of the language and culture but somewhat annoying to those who may be more familiar with them. Tempe’s fictional résumé reads like a duplicate of Reichs’s own experience, and the character’s attributes come from the author herself. In fact, it is difficult to separate where the personality of Tempe ends and that of Reichs begins. Reichs says that her friends tell her that Tempe talks like her and that her abrasiveness and tendency to be a smart aleck are traits that the author possesses. However, the author says that Tempe’s personal life is not like her own.

Reichs often focuses on the scientific details, emphasizing the process in a clinical way. The grotesque, gory detail in some forensic novels is muted in those of Reichs; however, she includes a lot of scientific details regarding bone measurement, analysis of blood spatter, cut marks, bite marks, the life cycle of bugs and carrion, degradation of body tissue and fatty acids, and DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid).

Déjà Dead

In her first novel, Déjà Dead, Reichs introduces Temperance Brennan, a self-contained, smart, and well-connected forensic anthropologist. Tempe’s initial involvement in a seemingly straightforward case becomes much more, through Tempe’s own tenacity and extreme coincidence (both of which come to be signatures in Reichs’s novels). Tempe meets her match in a couple of police detectives: Andrew Ryan, to whom she is strongly attracted, and Claudel, whom she finds as annoying as Andrew is appealing.

Tempe immediately identifies the victim and, within days, stumbles on three other victims that she contends were all killed by the same person. Where others might be content to contain their involvement to the lab, she plays an active part in the investigation. She even goes with police to a suspect’s residence and participates in chasing him through the city; however, the suspect gets away.

The story comes to a climax when she discovers that the man whom the police have in custody could not be the killer because his bite marks do not match the killer’s and she is attacked by the real killer. A fight ensues, and she disables the killer but not before he fairly incapacitates her as well.

As with most of Reichs’s novels, the plot for Déjà Dead was taken from a real-life case: Serge Archambault killed two women, then used one of his victim’s bank cards, which enabled the police to track the transaction and arrest him. He later confessed...

(The entire section is 1471 words.)