Having explored the mysteries surrounding the Shroud of Turin in The Inquisitor's Key (2012), the seventh book in his Body Farm series, Bass is back on home turf, tracing the origins of forensic anthropologist Dr. Bill Brockton's research facility.
It's the summer of 1992. Brockton is the young head of the anthropology department at the University of Tennessee. When prostitutes start turning up dead, all killed by similar means, their bodies deposited in the countryside, he becomes aware of the possibility that the killings resonate with a case from his past. The brainy murderer, Satterfield, who provides his own narration, favors particular cutting tools and likes to slice off fingers. With each horrendous crime, he takes a step closer to Brockton's family. This book takes its time in the early parts, filling us in on each of the victims’ lives before they unknowingly climb into Satterfield's vehicle. Brockton also gets opportunities to discuss the future of forensics with his assistant, explaining how studying insects removed from corpses will enable investigators to determine exact time of death. But if the pace of this prequel is sometimes leisurely, Bass (forensic anthropologist Dr. Bill Bass and science writer Jon Jefferson) is better than most at making the subject compelling. And when it comes time to turn up the intensity, he does that with satisfying efficiency, spreading the tension among a solid cast of supporting characters.
There's nothing especially original about the plot, but Bass is more comfortable working in his own backyard than he is chasing exotic secrets on foreign soil.