The Breaking Point (Body Farm #9), by Jefferson Bass

Four stars (of five)

Jefferson Bass returns with a throwback novel that hold the thrills to which series fans are accustomed as it further educates all about the wonders of forensic anthropology. After celebrating his 30th wedding anniversary, Dr. Bill Brockton, creator of the Body Farm, is summoned by the FBI and sent to the outskirts of San Diego. After bidding goodbye to his wife, Kathleen, Brockton heads west where he’s asked to identify the remains of a well-known philanthropist, whose small plane crashed on a routine flight. As Brockton heads up the difficult identification of a body having been through tremendous force during the crash, media inquiries begin to cast the spotlight on the FBI and NTSB, demanding the results be made public. Brockton’s discoveries lead to a positive identification, though it’s rushed by those in power, which he delivers as the inter-Agency politics heat up. Talk of a drug delivery angle emerge as Brockton leaves the scene and heads back to the University of Tennessee and his loving wife, in the heart of Knoxville. Brockton’s return is anything but calm as a local reporter begins poking around the premise of the Body Farm and asks difficult questions regarding the humane treatment of the bodies on the premises. These inquiries succeed in getting local politicians to wonder about the need for the Farm and threats of massive funding cuts leave the University scrambling. If that were not enough, a serial killer from his past has Brockton worried for his life, as well as that of Kathleen. When Kathleen delivers her own news, it is too much for Brockton to handle and he begins a swift mental and physical unravelling. With the case in San Diego blowing up and proving Brockton was completely wrong, he must face the music while juggling everything else and make it right, or face a permanent strain between himself and the Bureau. A wonderful story that fills gaps in the Bill Brockton narrative, entertaining as it teachers the reader more about the wonders of forensic anthropology.

WhenI began this novel, I could not wrap my head around why it had to be set in 2004 and not the current day. The more I read and using my powers of memory (this is not the only series I read, so I had to pull crumbs from past novels to recollect how things played out) I realised on ingenious Bass was in setting the novel in this time period. Much of Brockton’s growth as a character takes place in this time period and this novel illustrates that better than any of the others. Kathleen and her struggles, as well as the constant queries about the necessity for the Farm are not lost on the attentive reader. With other crumbs useful for the novels set in the present day, Bass treats the reader to a thoroughly exciting and jam-packed novel. Perhaps too jam-packed, as some storylines fall silent in order to keep the book under 500 pages. If I could offer one suggestion, choose two storylines and focus on them. Write an additional novel down the road to return to the issues and add to the creation. And for God’s sake, don’t make us wait so long the next time for new material.

Kudos, Messrs. Jefferson and Bass for this wonderful novel and the ideas woven therein. I am so pleased to have taken the time to read it and hope more ideas make their way to the publisher soon.