A scientist who’s more savvy about human remains than human relationships finds his own distinguished person threatened.
Buried under the grandstands of the University of Tennessee’s stadium, the Osteology Lab is the domain of Dr. Bill Brockton. Like all absent-minded professors, he’s dependent on his brilliant and beautiful assistant, Miranda Lovelady, and his capable secretary, Peggy Wilhoit. Still mourning the death of his wife and oblivious to romantic possibilities right under his nose, he’s glum because the entrancing Miranda will probably leave once she’s finished her doctorate. A pile of human bones minus a skull discovered in a remote county helps lead his mind back to his work. As a forensic anthropologist, he’s helped solve many a case, but this one is particularly poignant. The victim, chained to a tree, wore a path around it desperately pacing during weeks of captivity. Brockton and Miranda take the bones back to the Body Farm, a combination morgue, lab, and classroom facility and, with the help of other specialists, determine that the victim was male, under 25, and of Middle Eastern ancestry. Once they’ve tracked down his identity, they have increasing reason to think this was a hate crime: the young man was Muslim, forced to eat canned pork products and smeared with bacon to lure the bear that killed him. Brockton is horrified to learn that Nick Satterfield, a ruthless killer he’d helped convict, recently escaped from prison and marked Brockton himself as bear bait. Knowing all too well that Satterfield is capable of further atrocity, Brockton agrees to make himself a deliberate target—and, as neither he nor the protective forces he works with anticipate, many others as well.
Despite a contrived denouement and some saggy, draggy passages, Bass (The Breaking Point, 2015, etc.) balances anthropological instruction with a twisty tale of suspense in the 10th Body Farm case.