Book Review: Jefferson Bass’ Carved in Bone

Posted January 9, 2013 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Jefferson Bass’ Carved in Bone

Carved in Bone


Jefferson Bass

forensic mystery in Hardcover edition that was published by HarperCollins on January 24, 2006 and has 352 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

First in the Body Farm mystery series revolving around Dr. Brockton at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

My Take

Oh, god! I do love how Bass started this. He sets you up thinking one thing in the Prologue and switches completely by the first chapter. His character, Dr. Brockton, is interesting. He’s got a wicked sense of humor and some personal issues and it’s a good thing that he accepts a joke on himself…turnabout is fair play. That said, I found this story more clinical and detached than the Kay Scarpetta or Temperance Brennan forensic series.

I found it rather odd that in one part of the story Bass refers to Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series in its fictional sense and turns around later to use Dr. Scarpetta as a real character. It seems to be negating the impression Bass has been setting as a more non-fictional storyline. I also thought his storytelling was detached. I almost felt as though I were floating outside the story. I eventually got pulled in, but there is still a sense of being separate.

Bass never gives a good reason for why Brockton is going out in the field to investigate except for the emotional one of the victim’s nebulous connection to his wife. It could be a part of Brockton’s grieving process. I never got the impression this was something he usually did. His friend, Art, had much more warmth to him.

I don’t buy that the body could have lain there undiscovered for that long either. Two boys and a cave located practically in the backyard? Nuh-uh. I don’t care if it was locked. I can’t believe that Brockton was as ignorant of law enforcement issues as he appears either.

That said, I did enjoy the story. Bass puts together an unusual set of circumstances in the main plot with plenty of action in the subplots. He did a beautiful job introducing us to the characters and setting up lots of possibilities for the future.

He’s very detailed in the actual forensics as well. It’s just amazing how much bones can tell you about a person. Admittedly, I do find anthropology a fascinating field I’d love to explore more…just not the forensics part of it! Interesting tidbit about the difference between children’s and adult fingerprints. That must be so frustrating!!

I don’t really understand why people who knew the victim are so reluctant to share her name. Yeah, I get that finding the murderer isn’t going to bring them back. But someone has to be held responsible. Someone needs to understand that they won’t get away with destroying other people’s lives forever. And, god forbid, keep them from hurting someone else.

Where does the sheriff OR his deputy get off thinking they can pull guns on a colleague?

There isn’t a lot of tension although Brockton can be a bit of a drama queen. What will pull you in is discovering the who and the why behind Leena’s death, if the FBI and TBI can pin the guilty members of the Cooke County Sheriff’s Department, how he wiggles out of the situation with Sarah and Miranda, and what Hamilton’s reaction will be.

Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you…an author who knows the difference between “whup” and “whoop”!!

I’m interested enough to want to read the next in the series, Flesh and Bone.

The Story

A body is found in a cave in the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s incredibly well preserved due to the adipocere formation covering the body, absorbing its clothing and accessories.

There are too many mysteries surrounding this body and Brockton is still too close to his wife’s death and what he believes is its cause to not become involved in solving the mystery of who she is and how she died.

It’s a case that leads him into dangerous situations and all sorts of farming operations.

The Characters

Dr. Bill Brockton works at the Anthropology Research Facility, a.k.a., the Body Farm made famous in Patricia Cornwell’s series, and teaches courses in forensic anthropology at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Jeff is his only son and works as an accountant on the other side of town. He’s married to Jenny and has two sons. Kathleen‘s death has put a major block between the two men.

Art Bohanan is a senior criminalist with the Knoxville PD and Brockton’s friend. Miranda Lovelady is a very accomplished graduate assistant in the Anthropology Department’s forensic program and secretly in love with Brockton. Well, it’s a secret to Brockton! Sarah Carmichael is one of Brockton’s undergraduates. Very intelligent with an interest in the professor. Dr. Jessamine Carter is the regional medical examiner in Chattanooga with an unsettled sexual orientation.

Robert Roper is the district attorney in Knoxville. A man for whom Brockton has testified numerous times and likes as a person. Burt DeVriess, nicknamed “Da Grease” by justice and law enforcement personnel for his defense tactics, will provide some ongoing tension in this series. Dr. Garland Hamilton is the Knox County medical examiner who keeps screwing up. Dr. Bob Gonzales is the staff forensic anthropologist for the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.

Steve Morgan is an agent with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and a former student with a possible kink for handcuffs. FBI agents in Knoxville include Cole Billings, Brian Rankin whom he met in rather embarrassing circumstances as “Rooster”, Angela Price with bad news about just what is possible, and David Welton is the district counsel for the FBI.

Tom Kitchings is the Cooke County sheriff, a.k.a., Lord High Sheriff. A far cry from where he had expected to be when he left the county to go to college on his football scholarship. Deputy Leon Williams is with the Cooke County Sheriff’s Department and spends a lot of time collecting Dr. Brockton and bringing him out to Jonesport. No love lost between him and the Kitchings. Chief Deputy Orbin Kitchings is a former army helicopter pilot and the sheriff’s brother. Thomas Kitchings is their father and the pastor of the Cave Springs Primitive Baptist Church. His wife, Vera, knows her place—two steps behind and no sass.

Leena Bonds was four-and-a-half months pregnant. She was engaged when she disappeared and left a huge hole in the hearts of those she left behind.

Waylon is a huge man and knows a lot about setting traps on the land to snare the willfully blind. He works for Big Jim O’Connor and sets all of Brockton’s prejudices about hillbillies hummin’. Thomas J. “Big Jim” O’Connor, a former lieutenant who served with distinction in Vietnam, has a number of his own secrets, but appears to be a man with honor. Cousin Vern has some family problems and Deputy Kitchings’ demands aren’t helping.

Billy Ray Ledbetter‘s death, possibly at the hands of his friend, Eddie Meacham, provided an opportunity to showcase the forensics while introducing characters and giving a depth to them through the characters’ thought processes and reactions. And setting Brockton up for some nasty issues in the future!

The Cover and Title

The cover is sunrise coming over a ridge lined in trees. Very tall trees with most of their foliage at the top. Makes sense since they’re so crowded together. With the sun coming up behind them, they’re backlit in orange with the foreground a dark, dark brown.

The title sums up Brockton’s philosophy that the bones will always tell the story of a person, it’s Carved in Bone.