Jefferson Bass' Body Farm Books
After I moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, one of the first things I heard about was 'The Body Farm' that was operated by the University of Tennessee's Anthropology Department and created by Dr. Bill Bass. The premise of the Body Farm is fairly simple, yet completely intriguing. Dr. Bass and his students take donated bodies and essentially watch how they decompose over time.
While this scenario may come off as disturbing, the research has helped solve countless murders and furthered modern day anthropology studies. You've probably seen the results of Dr. Bass's research in certain crime dramas and didn't even know it (though I'm sure the situations were 'Hollywooded Up' for entertainment value).
After Dr. Bass's retirement from the University of Tennessee, he teamed up with author Jon Jefferson to write fictional novels that involve real science and real circumstances based on Dr. Bass's real experiences throughout his fascinating career. To date, the duo have published 7 fictional novels in 'The Body Farm' series.
I'm personally not a huge fan of fictional writing, but I am a huge fan of the Jefferson Bass books. Each book is suspenseful and I have a hard time putting them down once I start reading one. Also, as a current Knoxvillian (and also the fact that I literally live a mile away from the location of the Body Farm) I enjoy the references to the East Tennessee landscapes and locations. If you're from the area and/or are a fan of such shows as C.S.I. or Forensic Files, I'd be willing to bet you'd enjoy these books as well. I've wrote a short summary of each novel to help persuade you further (without spoiling any of the plots).
The novels do go in chronological order, but you don't necessarily have to start with the first book. The core characters do mostly remain constant throughout the series, but you could make do if you start in the middle.
*P.S. If you are interested in learning more about the real Body Farm, Dr. Bass and Jefferson do have two nonfiction books out that tell of some of Bass's best cases and gives a biographical look into the world renowned anthropologist.
Carved in Bone (2006)
The first novel in the body farm series follows Dr. Bill Brockton and his team while they try to solve a bizarre crime up in the mountain area in north-eastern Tennessee. The body of young woman has been found inside a cave, but this is not just any body. This body has been mummified over the past thirty years and no one is for sure who she is. Dr. Brockton must use his vast knowledge of bones to trace the trail of who killed her, all while the real killer is right underneath his nose trying to stop him by any means necessary.
Flesh and Bone (2007)
The second novel in the Body Farm series finds Dr. Brockton on a side of the law he's not used to being on...the accused. The novel starts off easy enough with Dr. Brockton helping the Chattanooga Medical Examiner to solve a heinous crime. Shortly thereafter, someone very close and dear to the good doctor turns up dead, and Brockton is the prime suspect. He must try his best to avoid being locked up while trying to clear his name and finding the actual killer.
The Devil's Bones (2008)
The third novel in the body farm series finds Dr. Brockton in the middle of two strange investigations. The first one involving the body of a well-known Knoxville woman who apparently accidentally burned herself up while sitting in her car. The story sounds suspicious, but the prime suspect, her husband, has an air-tight alibi. Brockton and his trusty graduate students pull out all the stops to prove a man innocent...or guilty.
Meanwhile, a former nemesis-turned-friendly acquaintance comes to Brockton to help analyze some cremated remains that don't quite seem to be correct. Some unorthodox investigation techniques lead to a ghastly truth that no one wants to believe.
Bones of Betrayal (2009)
The fourth book in this series finds Dr. Brockton in Oak Ridge, Tennessee--you may have heard of it referred to it as the Secret City or Atomic City in your history classes. Oak Ridge was a main site for the Manhattan Project during World War II. That was over 60 years ago, but could there still be something radioactive hanging around?
Brockton is called to a death scene to find a frozen body facedown in a swimming pool behind a historical hotel. The Doctor discovers that the victim is no regular joe. The victim happens to be a renowned physicist and just happened to design a plutonium reactor that was integral to the Manhattan Project. He also didn't drown in the pool, he died from a lethal dose of radioactivity.
To uncover what may have lead to the physicist's demise, Brockton enlists the help of a seasoned librarian and the 90-year-old widow of the now deceased. The librarian contributes an in-depth history lesson into the secrecy that has swirled around the town for decades. The widow somewhat helps with stories of her husband and his secret work--when she's not under the influence of severe dementia. The further Brockton digs, the deeper and darker the mystery gets.
The Bone Thief (2010)
Dr. Brockton begins this novel by being called to a seemingly routine case. He is to exhume a body to retrieve a bone sample for a DNA paternity test. Of course it couldn't be that simple. Upon examining the body, Brockton discovers the corpse has been tampered with in a very unethical way.
It appears that bones have been robbed and sold in a body part's black market. The discovery leads Brockton to call upon his buddies at the FBI to help uncover the grissly operation. Unfortunelty for Brockton, the FBI enlist him as bait in an attempt to bring down the underground trade.
Meanwhile, Brockton's medical examiner friend, Dr. Garcia, has been exposed to an extremely high level of radiation and is in danger of losing both his hands...and his career. Garcia tries to persuade Brockton to use cadaver parts from his body farm to help save Garcia's hands. Brockton must weigh the ethical implications of helping his friend or helping the FBI.
The Bone Yard (2011)
Dr. Bill Brockton is called upon to the state of Florida to help Angie St. Claire, a forensic analyst with the FDLE. Her sister has died from an apparent suicide, but believes Dr. Brockton can help prove it wasn't a suicide at all--but murder.
During Brockton's consulting trip seems to be going swell until it takes a significant detour. Two teenaged skulls are located in the Florida woods. Though the skulls have weathered significantly, it's clear the teens were killed via a violent death. The discovery leads Brockton, St. Claire, and FBI Special Agent Stu Bickery on a quest to find out the truth, eventually leading to former location of the North Florida Boy's Reformatory, a notorious juvenile detention facility that reined 40 years previously.
The location is also home to several graves of young boys who all suffered violent deaths. The investigation gets sticky when the local law enforcement refuses to cooperate and seems to be upset about the Feds and anthropologists start nosing around. It seems that the a lot of the prominent players in the small country have a lot of skeletons (so to speak) hanging in their closets...where they intend to keep them.
The Inquisitor's Key (2012)
The seventh novel in the Body Farm series finds Dr. Bill Brockton leaving the comforts of East Tennessee and going across the pond. Miranda Lovelady, Brockton's loyal grad assistant, has been spending the summer excavating a recently discovered chamber beneath the Palace of the Popes in Avignon, France. During her work, she finds a grand chest that claims to hold the bones of Jesus of Nazareth!
She immediately gets Brockton to fly over to help either prove the claim or refute it. A lot rides on the outcome of their research. They first link the bones to the Shroud of Turin. They also analyze the bones to determine that they are indeed 2,000 years old. The results create a battle royale between anthropologists, the Vatican, and a zealot that believes he can use the bones to bring on the second coming of Christ (and of course the end of time).