By Jefferson Bass

Harper, 2012 ($7.99)

ISBN-13: 978-0-06-1807046

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Dr. Bill Brockton is demonstrating to a class of forensic specialists attending the National Forensic Academy that forensic anthropology is not as glamorous and sexy as it appears on CSI and Bones. It is hot, sweaty, dirty, and often gut-wrenching, but somebody has to do it, and nobody does it better than Bill. During one particularly grueling session at the Body Farm, one of the students, Angie St. Claire, gets a call that sends her packing.

Angie later calls Bill to say that her sister is dead, and the authorities are calling it a suicide. She claims the woman's husband killed her, and arranged for a quick burial to prevent further investigation. She makes a compelling case, and Bill agrees to meet her in Georgia and see what he can find. This takes him down some shady paths and pushes his skills to the limits.

While working on this case with Angie, he is asked to examine a skull dug up by a dog with a fondness for finding buried secrets. This leads to a decades-old murder case linked to a notorious boy's school in rural Florida, the North Florida Boys' Reformatory. Layer by layer he unearths a sordid tale of corrupt lawmen, neglect and abuse of innocents, and shameful behavior by those entrusted with the lives of vulnerable children. He finds that the sins of the past cast a very long shadow over the present. He manages to upset some very nasty folks who really, really want him to get out of town. Whether he's alive or dead doesn't matter to them.

Jefferson Bass is composed of two writers. Dr. Bill Bass, the forensic anthropologist who founded the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility — The Body Farm — and his knowledge of this field is second to none. He makes the science easy to understand for the layman, while creating a fascinating story. Jon Jefferson is a journalist and film maker. The duo has turned out several well-crafted books centered around The Body Farm, and this is one of the best. The two cases are skillfully intertwined and woven into a rich, coherent whole. There is lots of local color in the three states where the mystery unfolds, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida. The story of the boys who endured horrors at the hands of monsters with human faces is heart-breaking, and, unfortunately, pretty close to what did happen in places like the reformatory not so long ago. Highly recommended.

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