Twenty five years ago, Dr. Bill Bass founded the Body Farm on a swathe of land in Knoxville, Tennessee. It is now a world-renowned investigative facility devoted to learning about how carcasses decompose. Bass, a forensic anthropologist who teaches and has published hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers, teamed up with journalist and filmmaker Jon Jefferson to publish a mystery novel. The success of CARVED IN BONE led to the birth of the bestselling Body Farm series, which they write together under the pen name “Jefferson Bass.” In THE INQUISITOR’S KEY, the authors wander off the Body Farm, which makes this latest entry slightly different from their usual fare.
"As the narrative unfolds and things arrange themselves, readers will have gone through a series of 'tests.' What they believe about religious history and history itself will force them to come to some conclusions about life and whether or not digging into the past is a worthy hobby."
Dr. Bill Brockton is the head of the farm in the novels and has a somewhat hysterical graduate student/assistant, Miranda Lovelady. She is off in France on an archaeological dig with a man named Stefan; there, they have uncovered a box with a strange symbol on it that makes them think the bones inside could be those of Jesus Christ. Miranda fakes an illness and sends Brockton an “SOS” to come immediately to her hospital bedside. Of course he drops everything, and upon arrival in Avignon finds Miranda well and as feisty as ever. Rather than get angry, he becomes enthralled with the idea of the bones and stays to become part of the team that is excavating the space under the Palace of the Popes.
Both Miranda and Brockton are skeptical at first, but the more they explore and uncover, the more it looks like the bones could belong to Christ. But when a laboratory finds them to be only 700 years old, even though the Shroud of Turin makes an appearance, the forensic tests prove these icons are not Jesus of Nazareth’s. The Shroud is the cloth in which Christ was allegedly buried, and people believe they see an image of His face on it. All of these findings set off a war between the Vatican, the anthropologists, and a zealot who wants the pot of gold only these icons could bring.
One night while waiting for Stefan, Brockton and Miranda wander into a church and find him tortured and crucified, hanging from the rafters. Now the suspense takes on a new hue. To find the killer is a hearty job indeed, and the team, along with the police, wonder how much the dead man is responsible for his own death. After all, he seemed to change once Brockton got there and the test results began to come in.
Another name that comes up in this DA VINCI CODE-like spectacular is Meister Eckhart, who has regained respect from New Agers. Even the Knights of Templar are mentioned in this multilayered tour de force. As if not enough is going on, a posse of drug lords makes an appearance, and Dr. Brockton is convinced that these criminals are following him.
As the narrative unfolds and things arrange themselves, readers will have gone through a series of “tests.” What they believe about religious history and history itself will force them to come to some conclusions about life and whether or not digging into the past is a worthy hobby.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on May 17, 2012