In the December issue of American Anthropologist, forensic anthropologist Heather Walsh-Haney published an interesting review article on the forensics in Kathy Reichs' series of Temperance Brennan novels (which have, of course, been further fictionalized as the FOX television show Bones - reviewed here by me).
Another laudatory aspect of Reichs' books, according to Walsh-Haney, is the inclusion of participant-observation and ethnography. Most examples that I can think of from the books (and, yes, I have read every single one, cover-to-cover, mostly on airplanes), though, are more about Brennan interviewing suspects and witnesses and not what I'd consider Reichs' highlighting "both the holistic nature of anthropology and how those elements might be brought to bear by current [forensic] practitioners" (p. 651).
I do like that Walsh-Haney criticizes Reichs for her outdated use of race/ancestry: "Brennan uses the antiquated terms Caucasoid and Mongoloid to describe human diversity... the public's understanding of the practice of forensic anthropology would be further clarified on this point if Reichs were to use her fictional narrative to introduce the history behind the terms and current usage" (p. 651). One of the things that always annoys me in Reichs' books - aside from the un-complicated assessment of "race" - is that she (or her editor) always uses "phalange" instead of "phalanx" for each of the finger bones. I swear that word appears at least once in every book, and it just makes me cringe.
After reading Walsh-Haney's brief review article, I was a bit surprised by the high praise. Granted, Reichs' books are the best and most accurate of any forensic-true-crime series I've read (ahem, looking at you, Patricia Cornwell... ugh). But they can be readily critiqued. In the past, I have required all my undergraduates in Intro to Forensic Anthropology to read and review Reichs' Bare Bones in comparison with the information presented in Byers' Introduction to Forensic Anthropology text. (The guidelines for the review assignment are here for anyone who's interested). Unfortunately, I don't have notes or copies of students' papers, but we found plenty of fodder for a lively discussion of the realities of forensic anthropology and the liberties taken when writing a popular novel.
At any rate, now that I know it's possible to get published in American Anthropologist by writing about Temperance Brennan, I gotta put together an essay on Season 6 of Bones. (I'm only half joking.) The TV show is most definitely not as accurate as the book series, but it's entertaining and often informative. That counts for a lot.
Walsh-Haney, H. (2011). Can Grave Secrets Be Revealed via Analysis of Bare Bones? How Kathy Reichs's Fiction Novels Feed the Public Perception of Forensic Anthropology American Anthropologist, 113 (4), 650-652 DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1433.2011.01379.x.