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Bones to Ashes: A Temperance Brennan Novel by Kathy Reichs
Bones to Ashes: A Temperance Brennan Novel

reoboo, August 4, 2007

A brother's murder led to Acadia
Kathy Reichs new novel flowed from sisters' resolve to get an autopsy

July 28, 2007
Aloma Jardine
The Hamilton Spectator
MONCTON, N.B. (Jul 28, 2007)
Temperance Brennan normally sticks to solving cases in Montreal and North Carolina, but the forensic anthropologist's career has also taken her to Guatemala and Israel.

In her next adventure, Tempe Brennan, the fictional heroine of author and forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs' bestselling series of novels, will travel even farther off the beaten path.

Tempe is heading to New Brunswick.

In Bones to Ashes, the discovery of the skeleton of a young girl in New Brunswick brings Temperance back to her childhood as she is reminded of the disappearance of her young Acadian friend Evangeline.

The story of how Reichs came to write a novel based in New Brunswick would make a bestseller itself.

It began with a murder 26 years ago this month.

In 1981, New Brunswick missionary Raoul Leger was serving in Guatemala in the midst of the country's bloody civil war.

When he was killed in July of that year, the Guatemalan government said he died with a group of guerrillas who committed suicide rather than surrender.

His body was repatriated to Canada several months later.

But Leger's family never bought the official version of events and in 2001 his sisters Andra and Clola Leger were invited by a National Film Board crew to visit Guatemala to try to unravel the mystery surrounding his death.

Andra Leger says that trip made them realize how important it was that they had their brother's body.

Many of the estimated 200,000 people killed during the civil war simply disappeared.

They also realized Raoul's body may help bring justice by providing evidence of war crimes.

"I foolishly thought it was as simple as calling the Moncton Hospital and asking for an autopsy," Leger says, smiling as she recalls how complex the whole process was.

Leger was finally told an autopsy on a 20-year-old body required the expertise of a forensic anthropologist and the only one east of Montreal was Kathy Reichs.

Leger had no idea Reichs was famous. She had no idea she was even an author. She knew only this woman might be able to give her family some answers and help them close a painful chapter in their lives.

"I bugged her every day," she says, explaining how she sent e-mail after e-mail asking for help in navigating the red tape involved in getting her brother's body exhumed and transported to Montreal to a facility equipped to handle the autopsy.

Reichs patiently answered each e-mail, rerouting Leger to the proper people.

The two finally met in Montreal in December 2001 when the autopsy was performed. As they said goodbye, Reichs made a quip about not getting five or six e-mails a day anymore.

"Are you going to miss me?" Leger asked.

"Maybe," Reichs replied, and so the two women continued to e-mail each other, Reichs from wherever in the world her work happened to take her, Leger from her quiet home in Cocagne, about 30 kilometres northeast of Moncton.

Reichs, who speaks French fluently, had been fascinated with the Legers' Acadian accent when they met in Montreal.

Leger says, "Then last February she sends me an e-mail -- hers are always one-liners -- 'What do you think if my next book is based in New Brunswick?"'

Leger started sending Reichs bits and pieces of New Brunswick and Acadian history -- the deportation in 1755, rum running off the coast, the leprosy hospital in Tracadie -- and Reichs made plans for a visit.

If Reichs wanted to see Acadie and Acadians as they are, she couldn't have picked a better guide.

As Leger recounts Reichs' adventures in the province, her hands stay busy cutting up strawberries in the kitchen of her century-old farmhouse.

"Basically we shared our life with her as we live it -- no fuss, no muss," she says.

Leger has never been star struck around Reichs. By the time she figured out that she was famous, the two were fast friends. When Reichs arrived to do a week of research in the province last June, Leger put her up in a friend's quiet but very basic camp, filled her up on lobster and wine and sent her off with pickles and jam.

She and her sister accompanied Reichs on a whirlwind tour of Acadie -- from Shediac to Caraquet, with stops at the giant lobster, the Acadian Village, and the Musee historique de Tracadie, operated by the two last nuns who cared for those suffering from leprosy.

Leger says the woman who made the National Film Board documentary about her brother is from Caraquet, so Raoul's story is well known on the Acadian Peninsula, which meant she and her sister often got more of a celebrity welcome than Reichs.

"We went to the museum and the nuns said, 'Oh! Les soeurs de Raoul Leger!"' she says.

"And we said, 'And this is Kathy Reichs,' and they said, 'Oh, hello,' and then (came right back to us)."

When they stayed at a local bed and breakfast, it was the Legers who got the suite, while a laughing Reichs had to content herself with occupying a simple bedroom.

Leger says Reichs asked a constant stream of questions but barely took any notes.

When she sat down to read an advance copy of the book, she marvelled at how many little things Reichs had retained from her visit. Even names picked up along the way appear in the book.

There is a Kevin after a police officer they chatted with, an Obline after a story Leger told about meeting a woman from Texas who was looking for her Acadian grandmother of the same name, and an Estelle who in the novel is a woman of ill repute, but in real life is Leger's mortified daughter.

Despite their friendship, Leger had never read a single one of Reichs' novels until Bones to Ashes.

"I sat and read it all the way through. I didn't get off the couch," she says. "And when I got done, I started crying."

Leger says Reichs has wonderfully captured Acadian culture and history in the book.

"She came to learn who we were and she listened to who we were," she says. "Not only did she get it, she has the ability to transfer it into words."

Leger expects the novel to have a huge impact on Acadians and on New Brunswick.

"We're being introduced to the world," she says, pointing out that Reichs' novels are translated into 39 languages and sold all over the world.

"I've seen what her other books do," she says.

Fans of the novels often travel to see some of the landmarks featured in the books. But this novel is particularly special because it also revives a lost country.

"Ever since the deportation, we have no country to call our own. We have our customs and our flag," Leger says.

"You can't go to Acadia. It doesn't exist."

But while it may no longer be on any map, the knowledge that it did once exist will now be conveyed to millions of readers.

And this leads back to Raoul and the kind of person he was.

"My brother was so proud of his heritage, even in the '70s," Leger explains. "Never in a million years did I think that him loving his heritage would be explained in this way to this calibre."

Bones to Ashes is Reichs' 10th novel.

It is set for release in late August.

Her novels are also the basis for the television series Bones.

Moncton Times and Transcript
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