An Uncapped Pen

August 26, 2008

Flesh and Bone by Jefferson Bass

Filed under: Reading — cindylv @ 5:51 pm
Tags: , , ,

Flesh and Blood, A Body Farm Novel

Published by William Morrow, January 2007

When I bought this book at a drug store enroute to the airport last month, I wasn’t thrilled with the selection available.  I’d looked at all the other books on the shelf and nothing else jumped out at me.  So, just  like when the Wintergreen Lifesavers box is empty and I have to satisfice with Peppermint, I picked it up.  The cover text promised that this work would thrill the fans of Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs. Hmmmm……  

Jefferson Bass is a pen name for the writing team of Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson.  Bass, founder of University of Tennessee’s Body Farm, and Jefferson, a seasoned journalist, combine their expertise in murder, mayhem and small town politics to produce a story about a forensic anthropologist, Dr. Bill Brockton, who works with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Medical Examiner, Dr. Jess Carter, to solve murders and put the bad guys in jail.

Now I read and enjoy almost all types of fiction (except science fiction).  Sometimes I like a snack–a la Janet Evanovich’s One for the Money, sometimes I need a meal–like Dai Sijie’s Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress.   Flesh and Bone, however, is more like the jar of pickled okra in the back of my pantry leftover from the gourmet basket I received as a housewarming gift from my contractor twelve years ago.

I have to admit that I did not realize this book was the second in a series.  Perhaps some of my frustration with the first few chapters might have been mitigated, had I read the first book.  Before my plane took off, I was getting itchy to throw the book in the trash and start Sky Mall shopping.  I had read/skimmed over the first 10-15 pages before I even realized the first person narrator, the main character, was male.  I decided to go back to the beginning and re-read what I had missed.  The narrative didn’t improve the second time around.  I gave up completely when the stewardess offered headphones for the in-flight movie.  A few days ago, I came across this book in a stack and picked it up again.  I refused to re-read the beginning, so I just jumped in at the dogearred page and gutted my way through to the end.  

The plot is credible, but predictable.  The main character, Dr. Bill Brockton, is mildly sarcastic, likeable in a Sad Sack sort of way, enduring the absurdities and humiliations of life in eastern Tennessee.  The supporting characters had potential, but remained underdeveloped–almost limp.

The narrative, like Dr. Brockton, wanders aimlessly through the streets of Knoxville for no apparent reason — venial sins such as these I can almost forgive. However, clunky dialogue (“As you know, Bill…”) and useless info dumps of research material make me reach for my red Sharpie.  

In the most glaring example of awkwardness, we find Dr. Brockton, the forensic anthropologist who knows enough about the science of forensics to imagine that the murder victim found hanging in a tree might have shed a “glove” of skin from his hand.  So he returns to the crime scene long after the cops and the CSI techs have finished and gone home.  He crawls on his hands and knees searching the scene for the discarded skin “glove”.  And when he finds it, he knows enough to preserve it in a solution of water and fabric softener, and transport it to his friend for analysis.  A friend he says, who just happens to be ‘the one guy in the state’ who could recover fingerprints from it and identify the victim.  But then Brockton requires a lecture on the absolute basics of fingerprint analysis down to the level of “fingerprints are made up of whorls, arches, and loops?  He’s worked with the police for years, investigating murders, studying evidence.  He even jokes with his attorney about the effect the television show, CSI, has had on modern juries.  No, thank you.

At this point, I forced myself to continue reading as an academic exercise.  Ms. Reichs, Ms. Cornwell, you ladies have nothing to fear.  Team Jefferson Bass offers no threat in your genre of forensic thriller.

When I turned the last page, I still had a few bubbles left in my bath and a few sips of wine in my glass.  I glanced at the preview chapter of the next book, The Devil’s Bones and read a wonderful line of dialogue that could just about make me forgive the two authors for all of the above inelegance and read their next book.  Dr. Brockton responds to some banal comment about the weather with the quip:

“It’s not the heat, it’s the stupidity.”

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2 Comments »

  1. Now how ironic is this?

    I picked up Janet Evanovich’s “One For The Money” at the airport last month. Again, after combing through the bookstore for the better part of a half hour. After reading it, I was glad I chose it.
    Thankfully, it read better then your choice.

    Comment by angel — August 26, 2008 @ 7:35 pm | Reply

  2. Hi Angel —
    I read the whole Stephanie Plum series last year. I loved books 1-8 or so. Then, I felt like she started phoning it in. I read similar comments on Amazon from some of her dedicated readers, too. I guess when you’re cranking out a new book or two every year, it can be quite a challenge to stay fresh and witty. Hope you enjoy the books!

    Comment by cindylv — August 26, 2008 @ 8:47 pm | Reply


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