Monday, June 18, 2018

An Anthropologist Confronts Life and Death on the Body Farm

This is the first entry in the "Body Farm" series. The author, "Jefferson Bass," is actually a team consisting of Bill Bass, the founder of the "Body Farm" at the University of Tennessee, and Jon Jefferson, a journalist. The protagonist, Dr. Bill Brockton, supervises the Body Farm (actually, the Anthropology Research Facility) where anthropologists study the ways in which corpses decompose. Brockton has a heavy teaching and research load and is still grieving the loss of his wife who died two years earlier.

Brockton's routine is interrupted by an appeal from a rural sheriff for help with a body that has just been discovered in a mountain cave. The victim--a young woman--has been dead for years, but her body has been eerily preserved by the conditions within the cave. Brockton removes the body to the lab where he begins his examination in an effort to determine who the victim might have been and how she might have died.

The anthropological challenges that Brockton faces pale, however, compared to the other problems he has brought down upon himself by opening this can of worms. The isolated, rural mountain community where the victim was discovered is very tightly knit and has secrets and rivalries that go back generations. And as Brockton begins digging into the past as well as the present, his prodigious anthropological skills may not be enough to save him from the trouble and the danger to which he's exposed himself.

The strength of this book clearly lies in the science, and watching Brockton work and make his deductions from the corpses he's presented is fascinating stuff. The story itself is okay, but the strength of the book is also, in some ways, its weakness, because everytime the plot begins to build a little head of steam, it's interrupted by another dissertation on anthropology. Additionally, even without examining the bones, most readers will deduce what happened here well ahead of Dr. Brockton.

The book is a bit clunky in parts, and the authors make several strained attempts at humor which simply don't work at all. This is a relatively minor complaint, but it did interrupt the flow of the book for me. Those concerns aside, I enjoyed the book. Again, I found the science very interesting and I would probably read another book in the series to learn more about this field.

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