An evil character spices a Carolina plot.
by D.G. Martin
Do you remember Hannibal Lecter, the psychotic doctor played by Anthony Hopkins in the film The Silence of the Lambs? Lecter was a brilliant but evil serial killer who dined on his victims.
We may have been horrified by Lecter, but we were mesmerized, too. Some publishers tell their authors that such over-the-top evil characters like Lecter can make a good story even better.
Kathy Reichs, one of North Carolina’s most successful crime fiction writers, uses the salt of just such an evil character to season her most recent book, A Conspiracy of Bones. In this 19th novel by the Charlotte-based and New York Times bestselling author, Reichs introduces Nick Body, who delivers conspiracy theories on a popular podcast.
Reichs is not new to designing intriguing evil characters. Her series of Temperance Brennan novels was the basis of the long running Bones television series. Brennan, like Reichs, is a brilliant forensic anthropologist. She uses her dead body-examining skills to solve complicated crimes perpetrated by her evil characters.
Nick Body’s ability to stir up his listeners reminds us of the late Rush Limbaugh, though Body goes to a whole other extreme. He kidnaps children and then stirs up his podcast listeners, who pay money to access his program and buy the products he offers that, supposedly, arm them against the coming violence.
Here is how Reichs sums up her character’s alarmist con games:
“Over the past decade, Body has been particularly vehement on two themes: Plots involving kids. Plots involving medical wrongdoing. Occasionally, his insane theories managed to combine both elements. Many of Body’s harangues focused on disease. Over and over, he returned to the theme of government conspiracy.
“A sampling: He claims that the Ebola epidemic in West Africa was a biological weapons test performed by America. That SARS was a germ attack against the Chinese. That AIDS was created and distributed by those in power in the U.S. That the anthrax attacks following 9/11 were orchestrated by the government. That banning DDT was a scheme to depopulate the Earth by spreading malaria. That Huntington’s disease is caused by a microbe and the government is conspiring to suppress a known cure. And, my personal favorite, that chemtrails are responsible for mad cow outbreaks.
Brennan figures out Body’s deadly schemes and bring him down, though the beginning of the story seemingly has nothing to do with the evil podcaster. What gets Brennan’s attention is a mutilated, unidentified body found in rural Cleveland County and sent to the medical examiner in Charlotte for identification.
The fictional Charlotte-Mecklenburg medical examiner, Dr. Margot Heavner, and Brennan have a long-standing and bitter rivalry. So Heavner does not ask Brennan to assist in the official identification process. Brennan is miffed and decides to conduct her own investigation. With the help of old friends in law enforcement, she tracks down multiple leads in Cleveland County, Winston-Salem (an ashram), Mooresville, Tega Cay and all over Charlotte. At every stop Brennan and Reichs teach readers lessons in science and technology. They show how good law enforcement can use such learning to track down leads and bring the bad guys to justice. In the end, Brennan connects Body to crimes that go far beyond his conspiracy-theory exploitations.
Even more satisfying for Brennan, her superior work results in putting a negative spotlight on Heavner, who has to leave her job in disgrace. All this gives us hope that the next fictional Charlotte-Mecklenburg medical examiner will value Brennan and put her great skills to work. SP
D.G. Martin hosts North Carolina Bookwatch Sunday at 3:30 p.m. and Tuesday at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. The program also airs on the North Carolina Channel Tuesday at 8 p.m.