“Two Nights” has writer Kathy Reichs venturing into new territory. This novel’s
plot line and characters do not delve into forensic anthropology as with the Temperance Brennan series, the basis for the hit TV show “Bones.” What both have in common are main characters that bring justice to the families and the victims, whether dead or alive.
The featured character, Sunday Night, is the direct opposite of Temperance Brennan in many ways. She is not a scientist, but ex-military and an ex-cop who never wants to follow the rules. Physically and emotionally scarred from her troubled childhood she has developed a toughness and stubbornness, while withdrawing from the world, now living on Goat Island, off the South Carolina coast. What she has in common with Temperance is a dry sarcastic wit, resourcefulness, diligence, a never-ending persistence, and intelligence, although hers is more a street smarts.
The book begins with Sunday (Sunnie) as a reclusive hermit being asked to investigate a missing girls’ case by her foster father, retired detective Beau Beaumonde. He feels that if she handles the investigation of a teenage girl possibly kidnapped by a cult he can draw her out of seclusion and have her face her own demons.
Stella Bright vanished a year after a bombing at a Jewish day school where her mother and brother were killed. Her grandmother hires Sunnie to find out if Stella is alive or dead. Needing assistance she enlists the help of her twin brother August (Gus) Night. The backstory of these twins influences the plot in a riveting way. Both are impulsive, have a temper, with an attitude to shoot first and ask questions later in their attempts to find out the truth behind Stella’s disappearance.
Although billed as a stand-alone it has all the features to be a series with intriguing characters and an action filled plot. The twists and turns keep the readers guessing as to what will happen next.
Elise Cooper: Before we talk of this novel can you give your impression regarding the visit to Afghanistan?
Kathy Reichs: In 2011 five authors went on a USO tour organized by the International Thriller Writers and the Pentagon to visit the troops. We flew from Istanbul to Kurdistan and then flew to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. From there we would fly out to forward operating bases. It was a one-on-one experience to thank the troops, but they actually thanked us for coming. We met soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. We dined with them, chatted, signed books, posed for pictures and listened to their stories. Overall it was a moving experience.
EC: Did the TV show “Bones” come up since it was based on your character Temperance Brennan?
KR: I think I was popular because of “Bones.” I remember going into this rec room and seeing on the big screen, football and “Bones.” One soldier told me, “When I call home there is very little we can talk about. I cannot share my experience here so we always talk about the TV show ‘Bones.’” This was fun to hear.
EC: Will you or did you ever use this experience to write a story?
KR: I think in particular two of my books have a military theme, “Bones of the Lost” and “Spider Bones.” The first has Brennan’s ex asking her to help a friend whose son is being court-martialed after an incident in Afghanistan. Jumping at the opportunity to catch up with her recently deployed daughter, Brennan ships out. She needs to determine if two Afghan villagers were shot in the back and the bullet exited the front or vice versa. The latter book has her investigating a body whose finger prints point to a soldier that died years before in Viet Nam. She ends up in Hawaii at the headquarters of JPAC, the U.S. military’s Joint POW/ MIA Accounting Command, which strives to recover Americans who have died in Southeast Asia, Korea, and during WWII. Since I had consulted as an external forensic scientist there I based the plot on my experiences. BTW: My husband is an ex-Marine who fought in Southeast Asia, so Semper Fi.
EC: Was it bittersweet to have the “Bones” TV series end?
KR: I was a bit disappointed. We all agreed it was time. But I worked with all these people for over twelve years and we were a family so it was sad.
EC: In this book you make the main character Sunday ex-military?
KR: She joined after dropping out of high school and getting busted by the police. Her guardian, a Charleston City policeman, told her that she was going to wear a uniform: either an orange suit in jail or to join the military. She ended up doing two hitches there. I might possibly use my experience in Afghanistan in a future story of hers.
EC: Where did you get the idea for this story?
KR: Sunnie grew out of a story from an earlier book, “Death du Jour.” It is based on a true cult where 75 people were killed. Three of the victims were in Quebec, parents and a baby, who were assassinated. This actually happened and I was present when they came to our lab for autopsy. After thinking about the mentality of cults and why they kill themselves and others I did a lot of research on the psychology. This gave me rise to think, ‘what if someone grew up in the context of a cult where everyone they knew was either killed or killed themselves?’
EC: Why did you decide to write a non-Tempe book?
KR: My publisher suggested it. At first I was not overly enthusiastic, but the more I thought about it the more I realized it could be quite fun. After 19 Temperance Brennan books I am locked in with the facts, and I have to remember to keep everything straight. With a new character like Sunday I was able to once again make things up, starting from nothing. I found the process stimulating and fascinating. BTW: I like Tempe and am not done with her yet, but I was energized in writing this new character.
EC: How did Sunday and her twin brother August get their unusual names?
KR: The cult she was a part of did not believe in names. She and her brother were born on a Sunday in August; thus the names after the day and month born. Her last name came about after she was arrested. When pressed for a last name she heard the Neil Diamond song “Hot August Night” in the background and used a last name of Night.
EC: As twins they look nothing alike?
KR: They are not identical but fraternal. I saw on the Internet a pair of twins where one was quite fair and the other African American looking. Since they were fraternal they would have a completely different genetic material.
EC: Can you compare your two main characters Temperance Brennan and Sunday Night?
KR: Tempe is very cerebral, logical, organized, controlled, and disciplined. She is a scientist with lab skills. Sunday is the polar opposite. She has quite a temper, not sociable, skilled with guns and tactics including surveillance, tracking, and intelligence gathering, a much earthier person. These are very non-Temperance kinds of skills. She is not your average Southern lady socialite, very different from your Charleston belles. Yet, they are similar in their dry, biting, sense of humor.
EC: Why a squirrel as a pet?
KR: Bob is his name and he allows her to be responsible for feeding him. She is not a puppy dog king of girl. I ran through in my mind what other authors had given their characters as pets and realized no one had a squirrel.
EC: Is Goat Island a real place?
KR: Yes. It is very secluded because the only way to get out there is by a boat since there are no ferries. It is just across from where I live, Island of Palm in South Carolina. Cross over to Goat Island and you will find a completely different world, which I describe in this book.
EC: What do you want readers to get out of the book?
KR: By the end of the book Sunday will have undergone a character change and is drawn back into humanity. A common thread throughout all my characters, whether Sunnie or Tempe, is compassion for other people. What drives Sunday is helping someone who might be alive while in Temperance’s case she wants to help the dead and their loved ones. All have a need to find closure through getting justice for the victims. Even Gus and their guardian Beau had compassion. He took in two children to raise even though he was not a spring chicken or a wealthy man.
EC: Can you give a heads up about your next book?
KR: It will be a Tempe book, more of a psychological one. In a short story for the Bones collection her long time boss was killed, and the person who replaces him has a history with Tempe, disliking her and refusing to consult her. After a man is found dead, eaten by hogs with no face and hands she decides to pursue the case herself since dental records and fingerprints cannot identify him.