Identity Crisis: The Murder, the Mystery, and the Missing DNA, by Jefferson Bass

Five stars (of five)

Bass published this non-fiction novella (can it be called that?) ahead of the ninth Body Farm novel, in hopes of shedding light on one of the interesting forensic cases undertaking in years past. The case of identifying the remains of a partial skeleton, believed to belong to Leoma Patterson took up periods of time for Bill Bass and some of his other forensic friends, each working in their respective field. Bass illustrates how this set of bones, limited by scavengers and eventually deterioration in a casket, opened some doors to identification, but slammed others shut, due to the time passed. Bass and his various crew members felt they had a slam-dunk identification, only to have members of the family (and parts of the scientific community) dispute or prove otherwise. By weaving through various areas of forensic technology (facial reconstructions, DNA, bone measurements, etc), all of which have been featured in Body Farm novels, Bass was able to eventually give concrete proof surrounding his identification project. If nothing else, it gave the family some semblance of closure. A wonderfully penned short summary of the case perfect for Body Farm fans and those who enjoy forensic science.

I am an avid fan of the Jefferson-Bass writing duo and have devoured the entire Body Farm series. I have also made it a point to read all of the non-fiction work that they’d put out, so as to better understand the real science behind it. Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cornwell seek to impress (and do) with their respective work, but there are times to talk REAL cases and ACTUAL results. Bass goes so far as to continually debunk the CSI effect, where laymen use the show and its popularity to presume they know everything. Bass presents this case with its facts and struggles right alongside. There are some highly technical areas, though they are not handled in an overly academic way, leaving the reader to struggle through enzyme plasmosis or osteorazification (ok, I made those up to illustrate a point). The story reads in a highly informative manner and educates while also entertaining, as Body Farm novels do as well. This case has appeared in the other non-fiction work and its return allows the reader to spend a little more time on the case and understand it. Attentive readers may also see portions of Body Farm narratives in the actually happenings in the story. What a treat and one I wish they’d replicate again soon on another case. Surely, Bill Bass has enough to fuel many a fire.

Kudos, Messrs. Jefferson and Bass for shining a light on this interesting case and showing the variety of forensic branches there are working together.