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“The Bone Yard” by Jefferson Bass

With the success of CSI, NCIS, and Bones- forensic anthropology (aka- “Bone People”) has become a writing meme.  An anthropologist just like Kathy Reichs, Jefferson Bass also writes about the gruesome tales told from a lost, forgotten, and horrifically maimed skeleton. Maybe I’m just jaded from too much of the same thing, but Bass’ book didn’t seem to offer anything different from any of the other hundreds of forensic anthropology stories out there right now.

His main character, Dr. Bill Brockton, isn’t a strong leading man. There’s really nothing about him that sticks with you other than he gets really bored by being behind a desk. So bored, in fact, that he’ll work for free. But there’s not really much of a personality to go with him. He’s just Dr. Brockton, a really good forensic anthropologist from the University of Tennessee who hates when Floridians start talking crap about his football team.

The two supporting characters ended up to be far more interesting: Angie St. Claire, whose sister died in what the medical examiner first calls a suicide, but Angie thinks it’s a homicide by her sister’s husband. Hence, why she’s in the story: to ask Dr. Brockton to call in a few favors and back her up on this.  She’s memorable in her obsessive quest for justice. There’s also Stu Vickery, but his only memorable trait is smooth talking and chewing on unlit cigars.

Two separate cases are being worked on in this book: Angie’s sister, and also a case the Doctor picks up while visiting Florida, a stone’s throw away from the jurisdiction where Angie’s sister died.  A dog has returned home from the woods of North Florida with two skulls: both from preadolescent boys- both with fractures inflicted prior to or during time of death- that has everyone interested in finding more.

“Find the Bone Yard” the doctor finds, scrawled on a piece of paper on his windshield.  And that’s just what they set out to do: apparently there is a burned-out and ruined Boys’ Reformatory school around the area where they find a small journal tucked away inside a Prince Albert can underneath a flagstone that provides the team clues to where these bones are coming from; and what happened to the boys themselves.

One page reads: “Jared is dead. Buck might be dying….the strap was one of the first things I heard about when I came. It was like two long barber’s strops sewn together, with a piece of metal between them to make it stiffer and heavier. One boy said they switched to the strap because you can beat a boy longer with a strap than you can with a board.”

I have to admit, I got sucked into the story. Even though the characters were weak, the story itself was intriguing and horrifying.  The story Bass wrote about these boys was poignant and heartbreaking. He also touches upon the subject of juvenile correction centers and whether they work to correct, or whether they just make tougher criminals later in life.

The ending also caught me completely off guard: another plus for the book. Overall, I’d say it’s good filler if you really enjoy Kathy Reichs and CSI and need something to bide your time before the next new book or episode- or if you’re a really big fan of forensic anthropology- but not strong by itself. But like I said. Maybe I’m just jaded…

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