Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Devil's Bones by Jefferson Bass

The Devil's Bones is the third outing by the writing team of forensic anthropologist Dr. Bill Bass and journalist Jon Jefferson, known collectively as Jefferson Bass.  The Body Farm novels feature Bill Brockton who, like Dr. Bass, is a forensic anthropologist at the University of Tennessee's Anthropology Research Facility, informally known as the Body Farm.  Brockton is a likable character, a late middle-aged widower who knows everything there is to know about human bones and who gets terribly excited about his research into the effects of the decay of the human body, and the various types of environmental factors that cause it.  He's pretty darned cheerful for a guy who not only works around and thinks about death all the time, but who is also forever getting pulled into tight situations in which his own death or that of a loved one is threatened.

Jefferson Bass likes to take real life headlines and write a novel around them; in this instance, one of the several story lines concerns a discount crematorium which is not disposing of the dead respectfully (or honestly); as Bill Brockton discovers, the owners have their own version of the Body Farm: although they're not studying anything, they are dumping hundreds and hundreds of bodies in the woods on their very large fenced in property.  Brockton stumbles upon the situation when he is contracted by Burt "Grease" DeVriess, the lawyer who once defended him on a murder charge, to determine if the supposed cremains of his beloved aunt really are what they're purported to be.  Bill quickly determines they're not human ashes, and his investigation begins.

And he's awfully glad to have this investigation to keep his mind occupied.  Otherwise, he'd be constantly worried because his nemesis, the criminally insane former medical examiner Garland Hamilton, has escaped custody while awaiting trial for murder and is out for his revenge.  We can only imagine the gruesome death Hamilton has planned for our boy Brockton.

The most interesting bits of The Devil's Bones are the lessons the layperson gets in forensic anthropology.  We learn about human bones, their strengths and weaknesses, what they can tell us about how a person lived and how he died.  Additionally, there are some nifty lectures on the workings of crematoria.  All of this has the potential to be both gruesome and boring, but the upbeat, optimistic character of Bill Brockton keeps keeps the novel from getting too heavy.  Add a decent cast of supporting characters, and you have a series that you'll gladly return to whenever a new title is released.

IF THIS TITLE INTERESTS YOU...
Kathy Reichs' Temperance Brennan is also a forensic anthropologist and Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta is a medical examiner; both approach murder in large part by learning what they can from the dead bodies themselves.


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