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#1 New York Times bestselling author Kathy Reichs returns with her twentieth gripping novel featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan, whose examinations, fifteen years apart, of unidentified bodies ignite a terrifying series of events.

On the way to hurricane-ravaged Isle of Palms, a barrier island off the South Carolina coast, Tempe receives a call from the Charleston coroner. The storm has tossed ashore a medical waste container. Inside are two decomposed bodies wrapped in plastic sheeting and bound with electrical wire. Tempe recognizes many of the details as identical to those of an unsolved case she handled in Quebec years earlier. With a growing sense of foreboding, she travels to Montreal to gather evidence.

Meanwhile, health authorities in South Carolina become increasingly alarmed as a human flesh-eating contagion spreads. So focused is Tempe on identifying the container victims that, initially, she doesn’t register how their murders and the pestilence may be related. But she does recognize one unsettling fact. Someone is protecting a dark secret—and willing to do anything to keep it hidden.

An absorbing look at the sinister uses to which genetics can be put, and featuring a cascade of ever-more-shocking revelations, The Bone Code is Temperance Brennan’s most astonishing case yet—one that gives new meaning to today’s headlines.

This reading group guide for The Bone Code includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

On the way to the hurricane-ravaged Isle of Palms, a barrier island off the South Carolina coast, Tempe receives a call from the Charleston coroner. The storm has tossed ashore a medical-waste container. Inside are two decomposed bodies wrapped in plastic sheeting and bound with electrical wire. Tempe recognizes many details as identical to those of an unsolved case she handled in Quebec years earlier. Meanwhile, health authorities in South Carolina become increasingly alarmed as a human flesh–eating contagion spreads. So focused is Tempe on identifying the four container victims that initially she doesn’t register how their murders and the pestilence may be related. But she does recognize one chilling fact. Someone is protecting a dark secret—and willing to do anything to keep it hidden.

An absorbing look at the sinister uses to which genetics can be put, and featuring a cascade of ever-more-shocking revelations, The Bone Code is Temperance Brennan’s most astonishing case yet.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. How does the novel present the relationship between science and ethics? Did reading the novel raise any questions or concerns for you about genetic testing and the companies that provide genetic services?

2. This novel begins with Temperance preparing to shelter from a hurricane. What foreshadowing or metaphorical connections does the image of a hurricane have in relation to Temperance’s case?

3. This book was written and published amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and deals with topics quite relevant to the book’s historical context. How has your experience with vaccines and the recent pandemic affected your understanding of the story? Did reading this inform your understanding of how vaccines are created? Did the novel make you less likely, or more likely, to want to be vaccinated in the future?

4. Temperance suggests that they must “follow the money” to determine what is going on. How does money impact scientific development and ethics? To what extent did a desire for profit drive the characters in the novel?

5. In one scene, Detective Vislosky is working crowd control at a near riot over the capnocytophaga outbreak. How did news and advertising affect the crowd? Are news outlets and reporters at all responsible for the actions of their frequent listeners?

6. How does the death mask figure into the book’s larger narrative?

7. Genetics play a large role in the action of this novel. Several characters are revealed to have familial connections. What role does the family play in the novel, and what is the significance of the genetic relationships between characters? What is the role of genetic relationships for us today?

8. All four victims in this case were never reported missing—nobody ever looked for them. What were the special circumstances that allowed their disappearance to go unnoticed? In a totally wired world, how do people just disappear?

9. Technical and scientific language appears frequently throughout The Bone Code. Tempe is investigating a case about genetics and vaccine development, and we’re introduced to a world of unfamiliar acronyms and terms, including “CRISPR,” “neuraminidase,” and “M2 ion channel,” among others. How does the frequent use of these concepts shape your experience as a reader?

10. The novel takes place in two primary locations: Montreal, Canada, and Charleston, North Carolina. How do these two settings influence the novel’s plot? What cultural and geographic characteristics do the cities share, and in what ways do they differ? Does either of them offer a true home to Tempe?

11. Tempe’s longtime friend Anne Turnip plays a supporting role in this novel. What is their relationship? How do they communicate with each other? How does Tempe respond to Anne’s house being damaged by the hurricane? Would you want to be friends with Temperance Brennan? What kind of friend do you think she is?

12. When Temperance first meets Detective Tonia Vislosky, they don’t have a warm or collaborative relationship. By the end of the novel, they’re sharing Thanksgiving dinner. What changed over the course of the novel to transform their relationship? In what ways are these women similar, and how do they regard each other? Compare Tempe’s relationship with Vislosky to hers with Detective Claudel in Montreal.

13. The victims in this case are young women and mothers. How does Tempe’s relationship with her daughter potentially influence her response to this case?

14. Patience and waiting are themes throughout the novel. Temperance is often waiting for results or further information. Her job seems to require patience. How does her personality conflict or coincide with her working life? How does her patience, or lack thereof, change her interpersonal relationships as well?

15. What are Dr. Aubrey “Sullie” Sullivan Huger’s motivations? How does your understanding of his motivations change throughout the novel? Can we justify Sullie’s actions, or he is clearly a villain through and through?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Discover your family tree! Go online to a genealogy website and follow your family’s history back generations.

2. Read Déjà Dead, Temperance Brennan’s first thrilling adventure, in which she races against time to obtain justice for a murdered woman and stop the serial killer who took her life from striking again.

3. Try Fox’s Bones series, inspired by the Temperance Brennan novels, and look for episodes about genetics (hint: season 9, episode 8, “The Dude in the Dam”).
Photograph © Marie-Reine Mattera

Kathy Reichs’s first novel Déjà Dead, published in 1997, won the Ellis Award for Best First Novel and was an international bestseller. The Bone Code is Kathy’s twentieth entry in her series featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. Kathy was also a producer of Fox Television’s longest running scripted drama, Bones, which is based on her work and her novels. One of very few forensic anthropologists certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, Kathy divides her time between Charlotte, North Carolina, and Montreal, Québec. Visit her at KathyReichs.com or follow her on Twitter @KathyReichs.

“Readers have come to expect certain things from a Brennan novel: a strong protagonist, a cast of well-drawn supporting characters, an intriguing mystery, a surprising resolution, and at least one really good scene in which Brennan puts someone in their place…Fans will happily check all those boxes here: this is A-game Reichs, with crisp prose, sharp dialogue, and plenty of suspense.” 
Booklist 

“As usual in this venerable franchise, the forensics are grimly detailed, the cliffhanger chapter endings nonstop, and the range of incidents competing for attention with the issues the newest remains have thrown into the spotlight dizzying….Comfort food for fans who are far past the point of being easily shocked.” 
Kirkus Reviews 

“Few crime writers are as edifying and terrifying as Kathy Reichs. She never lets you forget that “folk do the damnedest things.” 
The Times (UK) 

“A strong story told in a breezy fashion with an interesting [array of] memorable minor characters.” 
Evening Standard (UK) 

“I await the next Kathy Reichs thriller with the same anticipation I have for the new Lee Child or Patricia Cornwell. The Bone Code over-achieves. Temperance Brennan uses all her skills as a forensic anthropologist to solve a murder mystery story that races across America at the speed of fright.”  
—James Patterson

The Bone Code is a brilliant entry in a ground-breaking series and does Temperance Brennan proud. The story has all the elements we’ve come to expect—it’s smart, gripping, and builds to a heart-stopping crescendo.  More than twenty years ago, these wonderful novels began paving the way for other writers, especially Canadians like me, to be noticed. I owe Kathy and Tempe a debt of gratitude, not just for helping to make my own writing life possible but for hours of white-knuckle reading.”
—Louise Penny, #1 New York Times bestselling author of All the Devils Are Here

"Kathy Reichs is expert at making science both scary and thrilling, and she's in top form in The Bone Code. The story moves at such a relentless pace I couldn't stop turning the pages!"
—Tess Gerritsen, New York Times bestselling author of Choose Me

“Over the course of twenty books, Kathy Reichs and Tempe Brennan have thrilled readers with pacey, mazey tales grounded in real science, with plots springing from the author's prodigious knowledge and passion for truth and justice.  We readers are truly grateful—and looking forward to the next twenty!”
—Ian Rankin, New York Times bestselling author of the Inspector Rebus novels

More books from this author: Kathy Reichs

More books in this series: A Temperance Brennan Novel