Book Review – Carved in Bone

  • Title: Carved in Bone
  • Author: Jefferson Bass
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 04/08/2013

I enjoyed this. It’s very much in the same vein as Kathy Reichs books, which I’ve read for years. There’s a lot more humor, including “gallows” humor in the book – but not of the offensive or even gross-out type.

The descriptions of forensics, evidence-gathering, bone cataloging, scene-handling et cetera are extremely well done and precise without being too overly detailed. At no time did I find the science or police parts of the novel to get boring. The description of a cataloging the bones of a recently discovered mummified body (as well as the explanation of how and why a body could mummify when buried in a cave) took me back to my under-grad physical anthropology days. Again, it was also the perfect mix of correct scientific detail and not going over-board with the same.

What I really liked about Carved in Bone was that several other threads of plot and even other cases are woven through the main mystery. Whether it was Dr. Bill Brockton’s embarrassment that he’s agreed to testify for the defense for a man unjustly accused of murder (much to the chagrin of his police-officer friends and his normal partner in criminal cases, the DA) – only to discover he felt good at proving the original autopsy was completely botched and the man actually wasn’t even murdered at all, and Brockton gets warm fuzzies when the innocent man is released. Or, Brockton’s completely believable interactions with his students – Carved in Bone weaves together several great plots and colorful characters.

I did find that at times the very thick “dialect” of the East Tennessee mountain folk that the main case revolves around was hard to get through and almost came off as making fun of the characters. On the other hand, Jefferson Bass’s novel made unlikely characters (such as subsistence pot farmer “Cousin Vern”) sympathetic and understandable.

Oh, animal lovers beware – there are two scenes of animal cruelty in the book. Neither “praises” the activity but I was quite upset anyway. One scene is used to point out a certain character is The Bad Guy(tm) and the other is a scene of local color. At least one was gratuitous, possibly both, depending on how you look at it.

I also liked the subtle hints of other areas of anthropology. The discipline has four areas: physical anthropology, archaeology, cultural anthropology and linguistic anthropology. Carved in Bone actually has almost as much cultural anthropology in it as physical anthropology (forensics).

Overall, a fast smooth read, enjoyable, and I would be likely to buy more books in the “Body Farm” series. The author “Jefferson Bass” is a pen name for noted physical anthropologist Dr. Bill Bass (founder of the Body Farm in Tennessee) and journalist Jon Jefferson.


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