Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Body Farm's Dr. Bill Brockton Takes Off to France in The Inquisitor's Key

Dr. Bill Bass, of University of Tennessee Body Farm fame, teamed up with journalist Jon Jefferson several years ago to pen a series of books fictionalizing his life. The writing team, known as Jefferson Bass, showcases both their talents -- Jefferson's writing skills combined with Dr. Bass's lifelong forensic anthropology knowledge.

Dr. Bill Brockton, fictional founder of the Body Farm, mirrors his real-life counterpart in many ways. Like Dr. Bass, Dr. Brockton is also a UT anthropology professor, and like Dr. Bass, he works cases brought to him by outside agencies -- both public and private. In the first few books, Dr. Brockton stayed close to home, as all the books were set in Tennessee. In their last novel, the Jefferson Bass duo took Dr. Brockton to Florida to investigate a case at a former boys' reform school.

In The Inquisitor's Key, their new release from William Morrow, Dr. Brockton finds himself far outside his East Tennessee stomping grounds, all the way on the other side of the world -- Avignon, France, to be exact. After a panicked phone call from his long-time assistant Miranda Lovelady, Dr. Brockton flies across the Atlantic to come to her aid. Upon arriving in France, Brockton is roped into helping solve a centuries-old mystery. Asked to examine a set of human bones, he works with Miranda and another bone expert from Miranda's past, Stefan.

Interlaced with the present-day story is a fourteenth century subplot involving the Avignon Papacy, religious art, and medieval religious inquisitions. Jefferson Bass fictionalizes actual historical figures, including the poet Petrarch, artists Simone Martini and Giotto di Bondone, and Pope Clement VI. Bass ties this historical fiction narrative to the real-life religious relic the Shroud of Turin, which purportedly depicts the image of Jesus after his crucifixion.

The end result is a captivating tale in which the historical sections almost overshadow Dr. Brockton's storyline. However, because historical fiction is one of my least favorite genres, it took me about a third of the way through to become truly interested in that aspect of the novel. Once I was hooked (and became familiar with the characters), the historical bits seamlessly flowed with the current-day plot.

I adore this series, and was thrilled with a new novel starring the loveable Dr. Brockton. Although the historical part was difficult for me at first, it was deeply tied to the rest of the story, and worked well. The present-day ending is a bit too cleanly wrapped up, but sometimes that happens with mystery series. No doubt I look forward to what's coming next for Dr. Brockton, and I'll continue to to seek out new titles from writing partners Jefferson Bass.

Jefferson Bass, composed of the writing team of Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass, has written six other Body Farm series novels starring Dr. Bill Brockton. The pair also co-wrote two nonfiction books, Death's Acre and Beyond the Body Farm, in which they detail the Body Farm's conception and many of Dr. Bass's real-life cases. You can read my reviews of the previous Body Farm novels by clicking the links below:

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