Dr. Leonard Novak’s frozen body has been chain-sawed out of a dirty frozen pond and taken to the Body Farm for autopsy. The radioactive pellet found in his intestine starts a chain reaction that immediately begins to affect an ever-widening circle of people --- beginning with Dr. Eddie Garcia, the medical examiner who experienced the most lethal contact with the body, and extending to Dr. Bill Brockton, the Farm’s founder, and his graduate assistant, Miranda Lovelady.
As an investigation into the apparent murder of Dr. Novak begins, FBI Special Agent Chip Thornton and Detective Jim Emert seek Dr. Brockton’s help in solving the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death. Clues begin to be uncovered as a search of his home reveals an old, undeveloped role of film hidden in the freezer. Then a wadded-up note is found with the cryptic words I know your secret. To gain some insight into the culture and times of the Manhattan Project, Dr. Brockton begins a series of interviews with Beatrice Montgomery, a charming 90-something who loves her afternoon vodka and talking about the past. It’s up to Dr. Brockton and his team to sort out how much of what she says is fact and how much is fantasy.
Dr. Leonard Novak was one of the top scientists who worked on developing the atomic bomb during the latter days of World War II when the Manhattan Project turned the rural area of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, into a 59,000-acre hive of activity geared toward ending the conflagration that threatened to consume everything in its path. In addition to the six million Jews who had been killed by the Nazis, there were 25 million soldiers and 40 million civilians who also fell victim to the insanity. These numbers are hard to imagine in the midst of a war that generates headlines when two soldiers are wounded --- not to minimize any deaths of our brave troops but rather to establish the severity of the situation that led to the development of a bomb designed to stop the slaughter.
Both the scientists and employees who worked on the development of the atomic bomb were often conflicted about their roles in the project. The idea was to put an end to the killing by killing those in a designated area. To some it did not make sense and to others it was the only answer. How many know that it was Albert Einstein who planted the idea with Franklin Roosevelt to develop an atomic bomb? That and many other fascinating tidbits of historical information work to enrich this story that began during those terrible days when the world was threatened with destruction on several fronts.
Aside from some right-brain-numbing detail about gamma rays, isotopes, reactors and radioactivity, BONES OF BETRAYAL moves along at a brisk clip, keeping the reader guessing about how all the pieces will eventually fit together. Jefferson Bass’s writing style and the good-natured camaraderie among the investigators work together to involve the reader in this satisfyingly multifaceted story.
Reviewed by Maggie Harding on January 11, 2011