One of the big names in the small but heavily trafficked field of forensic anthropology provides more cases for gruesome consideration.
Assisted by co-writer Jefferson, Bass made a splash in 2003 with Death’s Acre, an account of his decades of work in a grotesque but increasingly marketable field. Then the pair assumed the name Jefferson Bass to pen a pair of bestselling crime novels based on the doctor’s exploits and named for the infamous “Body Farm” he runs at the University of Tennessee to study the sequence and timing of human decomposition. So they likely saw no reason why another nonfiction collection about long-putrefied corpses and race-the-clock hunts for killers should do any less well—and given the legions of TV- and mystery-obsessed junior forensic detectives out there, they’re probably right. That doesn’t mean this book is anything more than a cut-and-paste string of individual cases written up in prosaic prose. Bass’s persona—well-meaning scholar who doesn’t mind being dramatically whisked away from the university by law-enforcement types looking to solve a crime—is finely honed by this point and serves him well. The cases themselves are a mixed bag of deadly circumstances, from missing persons to an explosion at an illegal fireworks factory that strewed body parts everywhere. Bass even dug up the body of the Big Bopper to see if there was any truth to rumors that foul play caused the plane crash that also killed Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. There’s much to enjoy here, if you’re the kind of reader who likes to know why it helps to x-ray bodies that have been burned down to the bone to hide evidence of foul play. Answer: Lead from a bullet sometimes melts in the heat, leaving streaks on bones.
More morbid goodies for the C.S.I. set.