Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Review: CARVED IN BONE Jefferson Bass

Publisher: Harper Collins
This edition published: 2006
ISBN: 9780060759810
343 pages

On the campus of the University of Tennessee there is a research facility that is unique. It is surrounded by a high fence to keep out the public. The faculty of the university prefer not to park near the fence. When the wind blows in the wrong direction they can smell the research. The facility is the University of Tennessee Anthropology Research Facility, better known as The Body Farm. This facility researches body decay. This is the setting for Jefferson Bass’ first novel, CARVED IN BONE.

Bill Brockton is a senior anthropologist at The Body farm. He divides his time between lecturing and consulting with law enforcement and legal agencies. Bill is in the field testing the theory behind the stabbing of a murder victim when he is approached by a Deputy Sheriff from Cooke County. They have found a body in a cave and they want help. Brockton readily agrees and finds himself in a remote Appalachian Mountains community confronted with hillbilly characters deeply distrustful of both outsiders and the law. The Sheriff isn’t very co-operative either.

Jefferson Bass is the nom de plume for two writers: Jon Jefferson, a journalist, writer and documentary film maker and Dr Bill Bass, the founder of the Body Farm. Bass’ expert knowledge of his subject shines through in every page. Have you ever wondered how bones are de-fleshed* for examination? Bass will tell you in detail. You will either find it macabre, grisly and deeply unsettling or macabre, grisly and totally fascinating. I happily admit to falling into the latter category.
Forensic based crime fiction has become very popular in recent years. CARVED IN BONE is a worthy entrant in this sub-genre. Not only is it chock full of scientific details of forensic anthropology in easily understandable terms, it is also one terrific yarn. The characters have depth and the setting is so well described it is easy to visualise.

I loved the book and found myself reading aloud passages that describe some of the forensic procedures, much to the chagrin of some of my family.

If you’ve read similar books in the past and have found them wanting in some areas, give CARVED IN BONE a try. With the immensely likeable but flawed Dr Bill Brockton and his associates, CARVED IN BONE puts authors like Cornwell and Reichs in the shade. I enjoyed the book so much I have taken steps to get hold of their second Brockton novel, FLESH AND BONE.

Jefferson Bass has an official website, where you can not only find the other books in the series, but also the individual works of both authors and a tour of The Body Farm.

*For the record. To de-flesh bones, you boil them, adding a dash of bleach (to help mask the smell) and a liberal sprinkle of Adolf’s Meat Tenderizer to speed up the process.

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