The grisly discovery of a dead body stuffed in a 35-gallon drum full of asphalt and dumped at a landfill next to North Carolina's Charlotte Motor Speedway kicks off Kathy Reichs' new novel, Flash and Bones.
Reichs, a forensic anthropologist, is the author of the books that inspired the Fox TV series Bones. Her latest sends her heroine, medical examiner Temperance Brennan, on a journey through the underbelly of Charlotte's NASCAR racing scene.
Reichs tells weekends on All Things Considered host Laura Sullian that she researched Flash and Bones by visiting the Charlotte speedway, but the cars and spectators weren't what caught her interest.
"Wait a minute, tell me about this dump," she says, "because I'm thinking that's a great place to hide a body."
Reichs still keeps her day job as a forensic anthropologist, dividing her time between North Carolina and Quebec. She says details of her work often make it into her novels, although she usually alters them slightly — as in the case of her latest victim.
"We have done bodies in barrels in cement," she says. "Never done asphalt, but I figured, you know, I could figure that out."
The chemical composition of the asphalt in Flash and Bones provides a critical clue to the murder, but Reichs cautions readers not to expect too much from forensic science.
"It's called the 'CSI effect,'" she says, referring to the television crime drama. "The idea that jurors have way, way too high an expectation of science, that you're going to find that one scrap of skin in an acre of corn or something and that's going to crack the case."
Real life differs from television in one other crucial way, Reichs says. On Bones, Brennan "has this wonderful storage room with all the floor-to-ceiling backlit glass. ... I have this set of wooden shelves with cardboard boxes in a small storage area, and that's where our unsolved cases are."