Jefferson Bass is the pseudonym of Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson. THE BONE YARD is their sixth book, and like the others, its landscape is the Body Farm, a real place in Tennessee where research is done on and with dead bodies. Dr. Bill Brockton, the hero of this series, is based on Bass, who founded the Body Farm 25 years ago.
THE BONE YARD is a startling expose of the Florida penal system as it applies to adolescents. Angie St. Claire, a forensic analyst with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, asks Brockton to come to the Sunshine state, where she's trying to prove that her sister was murdered and the finding of suicide by the local medical examiner is wrong. While he's there, the skull of an adolescent male is uncovered by Jasper, a dog with a wide range to explore. Soon he brings a second skull to his master, and Brockton is convinced that the boys were victims of foul play. Angie and Special Agent Stu Vickery team up with Brockton, and the three of them explore the territory upon which Jasper probably wandered.
Another finding is the burnt-out remains of the reform school known as the North Florida Boy's Reformatory. On the grounds is an ad hoc graveyard with metal crosses fused together into that shape. No names are attached to the graves. But as they explore, they find other shallow graves in the vicinity of the school. Another important find they make is that of a diary buried in a tin that once held tobacco. Someone wrote long entries into the book, and even though the pages are fused together, a scientist is able to separate them over time. The words that the reader is privy to are bone-chilling and sad at the same time.
As the investigation expands, the group moves into the next county. Its sheriff is outraged that anyone would want to dig up his territory. He threatens them and demands that they leave immediately. But at that point Vickery makes some calls to people high on the chain of command and gets permission to continue the search for a little while longer. Sheriff Judson is so angry that he has no words for those he sees as invading his space. He doesn't care about the school or the boys who were clearly murdered there.
While this is going on, Angie is still trying to prove that her brother-in-law killed her sister. The angle of the gun is such that she could not have fired it into her mouth by herself. The husband stays in the background, but Angie will not give up seeking evidence of his guilt. Another subtext is the disappearance of Dr. Brockton's girlfriend. She's pregnant with his child, and he has no idea where she is. He doesn't spend any real time trying to find her, but she's on his mind throughout his Florida panhandle investigation.
Fans of Jefferson Bass will find THE BONE YARD up to the standards of his other books. Aside from some verbosity, the story stands up and forces readers to ask some searching questions about our penal system. How those who are supposed to "counsel" and treat kids in trouble, which is to aid in their rehabilitation, takes on a realistic and chilling role in this narrative. The story is told in the first person, which also brings a sense of verisimilitude to it.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on March 28, 2011