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31 August 2022

Kathy Reichs Q&A: “I worry every time my grandkids go out”

The crime writer on Jane Goodall, Roe vs Wade and forensic anthropology.

By New Statesman

Kathy Reichs was born in Chicago in 1948. She is a forensic anthropologist, academic and the author of the bestselling Temperance Brennan crime fiction series.

What’s your earliest memory?

A friend and I decided we would go down this big hill, cross a huge street and go to find my elder sister in kindergarten. We were three years old. We were busted because I was standing on my friend’s shoulders in the corridor looking through into the kindergarten room. The principal phoned our parents to come and get us.

Who are your heroes?

As a child, it would have been Nancy Drew, and also the aviator Amelia Earhart – as a kid I thought she was awesome, except for disappearing, of course. As an adult I’d say Jane Goodall. She is an amazingly adventurous woman who still works very hard, keeping little money for herself: it goes to the chimpanzees.

What book last changed your thinking?

Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson. It’s about a hurricane that hit Galveston in 1900 and killed hundreds of people. I learned all about the origin of the National Weather Service. We take it for granted today, but then it was new and could have made a big difference, but nobody listened.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Harry Truman. He was an ordinary guy who ended up in the presidency and had to make some of the most difficult decisions about huge issues.

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What would be your “Mastermind” specialist subject?

Forensic anthropology. My speciality is the human skeleton and using my knowledge of it to work for coroners and medical examiners, identifying human remains that are decomposed, burned or dismembered.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

When I read books like The Great Gatsby it sounds like the 1920s, out on Long Island, might have been a fun time – if you didn’t know what was coming down the road.

What TV show could you not live without?

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. He’s so funny and he gets so outraged.

Who would paint your portrait?

I really like the work of Kehinde Wiley, who did Barack Obama’s presidential portrait. I don’t know that he does white people, but if I could persuade him to do a really pasty, pale white woman… I just love that he combines the classic with bright colours.

What’s your theme tune?

“Happy” by Pharrell Williams.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I have an aunt who’s passed on now but she was quite a woman. Her theme for life was: never complain and never explain.

What’s currently bugging you?

The state of the United States politically. The availability of assault weapons. And of course I’m still furious at the overturning of Roe vs Wade.

What single thing would make your life better?

The banning of assault weapons, so I wouldn’t have to worry every time my grandkids go anywhere – to a park, to a movie, to a concert, to a parade.

When were you happiest?

When my kids were young. It was certainly when I was the busiest.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

A wildlife photographer, and then when I got too old to deal with the heat and the bugs, just a travel photographer.

Are we all doomed?

I’d describe myself as a sarcastic optimist who remains pessimistically hopeful.

“Cold, Cold Bones” by Kathy Reichs is published by Simon & Schuster

[See also: Dave Davies Q&A: “I like guitars but I haven’t got any left”]

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This article appears in the 31 Aug 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Liz Truss Doctrine