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Without Mercy: A Body Farm Novel by Jefferson Bass (William Morrow, $26.99, 342 pages)

As we headed to the Anthropology Department’s pickup truck, the back loaded with body bags, shovels, rakes, cameras, and anything else we might need to work a death scene, I felt a surge of energy – excitement, even – and for the moment, at least, I forgot to be morose about the prospect of Miranda’s graduation and departure.

Faithful readers of the celebrated Body Farm novels will delight in the measured pace taken by the authors to gently move into a tale bound to contain ghastly examples of man’s inhumanity to man. Before the shocking jolt brought on by the remains of a crime, there are the beautiful descriptions of the locale, usually on or near the campus of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Along with the botany and geography, one can expect information regarding the sociologic background of the region where the tale takes place.

A call for assistance has come to Dr. Bill Brockton from Jim O’Conner, sheriff of Cooke County. As with many of the past requests for assistance received by the UT Anthropology Department, the remains of a crime discovered long past its commission pose a difficult challenge for Sheriff O’Conner and his deputy, Waylon. Dr. Brockton and his PhD candidate/assistant, Miranda Lovelady, drop what they are doing and get on the road to help their friends.

What makes this, the tenth book in the Body Farm series, unique is that it ties together a new plot line with an old one that has been revived with a twist. Moreover, there’s a surprise ending. Rather than posting a spoiler alert, this reviewer encourages loyal readers to consider the time, effort and painstaking care that goes into the creation of these books. The authors provide well-written, well-researched and heartfelt novels worthy of the praise that they have earned.

A world in which fiction characters live out their destiny is all the more enjoyable when the basic foundation is located in the real world. On a recent weekend, this reviewer and her husband were having an early Saturday dinner at a local restaurant. Of course there were televisions mounted in the corners of the dining room playing the afternoon college football games one expects to see. The game nearest our table featured the University of Tennessee Volunteers. The game held no fascination for me; however, when the camera pulled away from the field for a long view of the stadium, I nearly screamed, “OMG, it’s Neyland! Dr. Brockton’s office is underneath it!” That’s a real testament to the fascination and connection the Body Farm novels have created for me.

Thank you Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

This book was released on October 4, 2016.

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Electricity

Capacity for Murder: A Professor Bradshaw Mystery by Bernadette Pajer (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95, 256 pages)

Capacity for Murder (nook book)

Be prepared for an enlightening mystery. The Healing Sands Sanitarium is the scene of a gruesome accidental death by electrocution. The time is the summer of 1903 when Professor Benjamin Bradshaw is called to the Pacific coast seaside southwest of Seattle to determine whether Dr. Hornsby, owner of the sanitarium, has committed more than a fatal mistake with his electrotherapeutics. Dr. Hornsby’s cherished son-in-law is the victim which makes this a touchy situation for all concerned.

Professor Bradshaw is an expert in the use of electricity which is in the early stages of adaptation to everyday life. He has successfully aided in local law enforcement investigations regarding several criminally-related electrical matters. The instrument that delivered the fatal jolt is a chair wired to deliver therapeutic doses of electricity.

Ms. Pajer’s charming tale is the third in her Professor Bradshaw mystery series. She wastes no time in setting up the various potential villains and entanglements among them. Her crisp and witty dialogue adds to the entertainment. The period piece is true to the knowledge and science of the early 1900s; however, it’s not the least bit stuffy or stuck in time. The reader is provided with a glimpse at a part of life back then that is usually not known today. The Washington Academy of Sciences founded in 1898 has granted its seal of approval for the accuracy of the scientific content in Capacity for Murder.

The scientific nature of this story bears a strong similarity to the mysteries written by the Jefferson Bass duo and Patricia Cromwell. Fans of their novels would be wise to add Bernadette Pajer to their favorites.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by a publicist.

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Brand New Key

The Inquisitor’s Key by Jefferson Bass (William Morrow, $25.99, 350 pages)

“I had never stayed in a place this fancy, and surely never would – the rooms start at eight hundred dollars a night – but how could I pass up a chance to take Miranda to a swanky restaurant that bore her name?”

Dr. Bill Brockton is back on the trail of a historic mystery in this, the seventh book in the Body Farm series.   Authors, Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson, who together write as Jefferson Bass, have produced several novels based on the work of Dr. Bass – a highly-respected forensic anthropologist.   (See a review of The Bone Yard posted earlier on this site.)   As is their custom, the authors put Dr. Brockton in the role of narrator.   The action in The Inquisitor’s Key takes place primarily in Avignon, France.   Dr. B’s assistant, Miranda Lovelady, puts out a medical distress call to him from her post in Avignon and he drops everything he’s working on in Tennessee to fly to her side.

Dan Brown’s 2003 novel, The Da Vinci Code, seems to have made an impression on the authors as there are some thematic similarities to this story.   The Catholic Church made Avignon the home of the Papacy during the span of years between 1309 and 1376.   The cruelty of one pope in particular, the commercial value of religious artifacts and the Inquisition are the focal points of the tale.   As a fan of the Body Farm mysteries might guess, there are bones to be authenticated and Dr. Brockton is the expert who is called upon to lead the analysis.

The technique of alternating between time periods at the same location is one used by the authors in The Bone Yard and it’s put to good use in this novel as well.   Charming cross references between present day spiritualist Eckhart Tolle and Meister Johannes Eckhart of the early 14th century create a bridge between the widely separated periods in time.

Dr. Brockton’s view on death has broadened in this book and so has his take on what he wants from life.   The underlying philosophical journey brings him and Miranda to a thrilling and deadly conclusion.   Ah, but wait, there are bound to be more books forthcoming from the Jefferson Bass duo.   This reviewer is counting on more, please!

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Here is a review of The Bone Yard: A Body Farm Novel by Jefferson Bass:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/monster-mash/

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A review of The Inquisitor’s Key: A Body Farm Novel by Jefferson Bass.

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Darkness on the Edge of Town

Iron House: A Novel by John Hart (Thomas Dunne Books, $25.99, 432 pages)

This mystery/thriller is the fourth book from author John Hart (Down River, The King of Lies, The Last Child).   His tale is dense, personal and darkly portrayed using excellent character development.   Michael, the main character, has led a mysterious life at the margins of society as a mob killer.   His childhood traumas and challenges form the background of the mystery.   There is a Dickensian quality to the somber undercurrent that stems from Michael’s childhood years spent in a horrific orphanage called Iron House.   He has recently felt a yearning for an ordinary life far from the world he knows.   Girlfriend Elena is at the center of these new feelings.

“Where are we going?”

“North Carolina.”

“Why?”

“To find my brother.”

She blinked, still stunned.   “You killed them.”

Michael opened the door, took her by the hand.   “I’m trying to quit.”

As is often the case, the plotline is just inside the bounds of believability.   Yes, we’re familiar with the notion of East Coast crime syndicates and the brutality of gangs in general.   Yes, a story that involves the worst of the bad is bound to contain its fair share of blood and guts.   But, no, the quantity of gore provided by author Hart was not anticipated.

The leisurely pace of the early chapters gives way to an all-out race against evil to save the damsel in distress.   This book is highly reminiscent of another recently published work that features an orphanage/reform school.   The Bone Yard by the writing duo known as Jefferson Bass relies on forensics and anthropology, while Iron House gets its structure from the aberrant quirks of some truly psychotic folks.   The two books are vastly different in that the bulk of the body count in The Bone Yard stems from decades old acts of cruelty, whereas Iron House has a pile of fresh corpses.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “A rare accomplishment – a compelling, fast paced thriller written with a masterful, literary touch.”   Jeffrey Deaver

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Monster Mash

The Bone Yard: A Body Farm Novel by Jefferson Bass

“Just head, in a patch of ground between two huge branches of the live oak, stood three rows of knee-high crosses – four crosses in two of the rows, three in the other; eleven crosses in all…  Vickery eased the Jeep to a stop alongside the nearest row of crosses.   ‘Welcome to the Bone Yard,’ he announced.”

The most recent mystery/thriller from the writing duo of Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson, together known as Jefferson Bass, is not for the faint of heart.   The underlying message here is that human cruelty knows no limits.   This book picks up smoothly after the last one in the series, The Bone Thief.

This reviewer began absorbing the book as an Audible download to an iPod that was plugged into the dashboard of her trusty Mini Cooper.   The tale began innocuously, as do all the Body Farm novels.   The subtle, aw shucks anthropological introduction is followed by a second story line.   The first is set in the present day and the second is grounded in the Florida swamps of 40 years ago.

The current day story line revolves around a personal request from Angie St. Claire, a forensic analyst with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, to Dr. Bill Brockton – the main character of the Body Farm mysteries.   Angie’s sister has died in a questionable manner and Angie is determined to prove that it was murder.   Since Dr. Brockton’s summer hiatus from teaching at the University of Tennessee in the anthropology department has just begun, he is more than willing to travel to Florida to provide Angie with his forensic knowledge.

In the meantime, local law enforcement officials in Florida come into possession of two skulls that need to be identified.   Naturally, the task falls to Angie and Dr. Brockton and he, in turn, involves his expert staff to determine the ethnicity, age and gender of the skulls.   Along the way clues are revealed that lead to a boy’s reform school.   A separate narrative begins in the voice of a young boy who was interned at the reform school.

As the audio novel progressed, the shared themes of graphic descriptions of unimaginable violence made it clear that there might be some value in switching to a hard copy of the book tucked away safely at home.   Driving while listening to this sort of content is not conducive to safe driving!   The hard copy provided the welcome option of skipping the most horrific scenes of torture, in the guise of attitude adjustment, administered forty years prior to boys who were housed at the reform school sequestered in the woods of Florida.

Both story lines are filled with nagging suspicions and dedicated forensic work that incorporates many jurisdictions.   The reader might well hope that this level of cooperation exists in the real world on a widespread basis.   There are strong plugs for peace and civility from the team of Jefferson Bass.   Moreover, the good guys are very, very good and the villains are rotten to the core.

The tension and intrigue build to a quick paced race against time and evil.   The conclusion leaves plenty of opportunities for a future supply of the further exploits of Dr. Bill Brockton.   This is a real page turner!

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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A review of The Bone Yard: A Body Farm Novel by Jefferson Bass.

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