Jefferson Bass --- the pseudonym for the writing team of Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass --- has taken the forensic thriller to new heights with their Body Farm series featuring Dr. Bill Brockton.CUT TO THE BONE is set in the year 1992 and is a prequel to this exciting series. A much younger Brockton is the ambitious head of the Anthropology Department at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. It is here where he develops the concept for a research facility unlike any other in the nation. Thus the Body Farm is created.
While working diligently with his research assistant, Tyler, Brockton is called to assist on a murder site and lend his forensic expertise to the skeletal remains that have been uncovered by the East Tennessee patrol located in Morgan County. Sherriff Jim Cotterell describes the scene in the Frozen Head Mountain region that requires Brockton’s assistance.It turns out this location is the perfect place to dispose of a corpse. The territory is rarely traversed by man, and the laws of nature act quickly to accelerate the decomposition process. What is found is a skull, identified as that of a young woman, which is gathered from the mountainside with a locust flower growing from one of the hollow eye sockets.
"The forensic novels of Jefferson Bass are clearly head and shoulders (no pun intended) above other series in this genre.... CUT TO THE BONE is spot on and impossible to put down."
Brockton knows that each and everybody tells a story, and the answers they are looking for are literally written in bone. As Brockton does his part to assist the local authorities, CUT TO THE BONE intersperses a parallel plot line that features the antagonist of the story --- a demented serial killer referred to merely as Satterfield.Satterfield is perhaps the most daunting and evil individual Brockton has ever come up against and, since this is a prequel, clearly shows the impetus for Brockton’s work at the Body Farm that continues to the present day. Imagine someone with Hannibal Lecter’s planning skills combined with a past as a Navy Seal, and you will just scratch the surface of this dangerous killer.
Things get complicated as the bodies of young women begin to pile up --- some recent and some older. The chilling thing for Brockton is the similarity in these killings to a previous case he had worked some years earlier. He himself is briefly a suspect until the police recognize that the killer has placed Brockton and his family directly in his nefarious crosshairs. It is clear that his past has caught up with him and someone is looking for revenge at his expense.
Obviously, readers will realize that Brockton survives since he is the protagonist of seven other Body Farm novels. However, he does not escape completely unscathed, and it is interesting to see how the forensic fire was lit under him that pushed him to create the Body Farm as a means of stopping killers like Satterfield.
The forensic novels of Jefferson Bass are clearly head and shoulders (no pun intended) above other series in this genre. They keep the forensic and anthropological lingo at a level where it is accessible to the reader and not so technical that it cannot be easily grasped. They also do not let their recurring characters get too bogged down in separate storylines that would take away from the action and dilute the plot.
CUT TO THE BONE is spot on and impossible to put down. Taking place in 1992 poses a huge challenge for Jefferson Bass as that may as well be the dark ages from a forensic science perspective. Dr. Bill Bass turned 85 in August but does not miss a beat as he and Jon Jefferson have a good thing going with the Body Farm stories, and Dr. Bill Brockton is one of the more likable characters in modern crime fiction.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on November 8, 2013