Let me preface this by saying that I have thoroughly enjoyed the few books I have read by these two authors (Jefferson Bass is the writing duo of Dr. Bill Bass and Mr. Jon Jefferson). That said, their latest effort, The Bone Yard, seemed less of a forensic mystery and more of an expose into the Florida reform school system of the twentieth century. The teaser at the beginning of the story revolves around a student, Angie St. Claire, of the protagonist, Bill Brockton, who’s investigating the suspicious death of her sister. I truly was snared from the beginning as the information started to flow regarding the death.
Unfortunately, this was merely a lead-in to force Brockton to travel to Florida so as to initiate the true plot. Now, don’t get me wrong, the primary plot has some great points to it and it really does center around real life events. But where most authors would try to tie in the initial sub-plot, this book pretty much benches that concept. The story very quickly shifts to the Florida reform school and all of the irregularities that took place, leaving the reader to wonder why St. Claire seems only slightly bothered by the death of her sister. There are pretty routine entries into the plot by supporting characters that could have used a bit more fleshing out, but truth be told, they probably won’t be seen in any other books in the future. I loved the depth of character given to Brockton, from his impression of local buildings to the details regarding the meals”¦I just kept hoping for more in the way of cast interaction.
Most of the book entails the conversation of the two forensic anthropologists mentioned and one other legal representative who apparently existed in the book merely to enable the other two to describe forensic situations to the reader. A sounding board, of sorts. Several other characters pop in and out of the storyline without leaving much of an impression on the reader. Unfortunately, I think this is what disappointed me most.
The agenda of the book also is suspect. Whereas I thought I was going to be reading a work of fiction, I instead received a pretty thorough history (semi-factual, it turns out) of how some reform schools mistreated their students. Now don’t get me wrong, this story needed to be told, and has been all over the news the last few years, but I wanted another Body Farm Mystery“¦ not to be beaten in the skull with how horrific this school was to the teenagers in the early to mid twentieth century. I felt somewhat robbed as I wasn’t given the story with which the book teased me. The original sub-plot, the sister’s death, was so trivialized in the book that it seemed an afterthought when you finally get the truth of the matter. It literally takes but a few pages to wrap it all up in a non-committal way. The true story, though, leaves the reader curious for more. And I do like that. So much so that I immediately started researching the history that inspired this writing. I learned a lot and found myself saddened that these things could have happened in a civilized country.
All in all, I would have to say that I like the Body Farm series (of which this is the sixth), but I would be hard pressed to recommend this book to anyone unless I know they are history or forensic fans. I would, however, highly recommend other books by Jefferson Bass. The writing style is usually very personal and inviting.
For those who are disturbed by graphic description of rape and murder, be warned this book occasionally does touch on these subjects.