Can the ancient bones discovered in a stone chest in Avignon, France, possibly be the remains of Jesus of Nazareth? Urgently summoned from the scene of a more mundane horrible killing in Tennessee to find out, forensic anthropologist Dr. Bill Brockton investigates with the Vatican and a religious zealot bearing down on him.
The latest installment in the Body Farm series (Carved in Bone, 2006, etc.) explores the mysteries surrounding the Shroud of Turin. Brockton and Miranda Lovelady, his protégé and the object of his unstated romantic desires, determine from a forensic reconstruction of its face that the ancient skull may indeed have been the basis for the faded image on the Shroud. When lab tests on a tooth from the skull reveal the bones are 2,000 years old, all bets are on. The investigation takes Brockton and Miranda from France to Italy to Switzerland, each stop more dangerous than the last. Their French associate, Stefan, who has a thing for Miranda himself, has hidden motives. René Descartes, the French investigator who arrives on the scene after a gruesome murder (he claims to be a descendent of the philosopher), proves to be untrustworthy. And a madman calling himself Reverend Jonah kidnaps Miranda. Bass (the team of noted forensic anthropologist Dr. Bill Bass and science writer Jon Jefferson) is a solid storyteller who inspires credibility with scientific expertise. The book also reveals a keen interest in art and history in scenes set in 14th century Avignon, where intrigue surrounds the painter Simone Martini's discovery of Christ's remains, which were hidden by Pope Benedict, and the death portrait of Jesus he commits to a piece of fabric. But as competent as this book is, it lacks the swirling dramatic intensity of The Da Vinci Code, which Brockton mentions in passing, and the suspense is less than gripping.
This novel isn't better than average as a thriller, but it provides plenty of food for thought about religious artifacts and their role in people's lives.