Without Mercy (Body Farm #10), by Jefferson Bass

Eight stars

Bass sets out to stun and tantalise readers with the tenth novel in the highly-acclaimed Body Farm series. When Dr. Bill Brockton and his longtime assistant, Miranda, are called to an apparent crime scene in Cooke County, no one is quite sure what to make of it all. A large tree with a deeply gouged ring in its bark and a small pile of leg bones is the only signs of any crime, though even Brockton is unable to provide a timeline. It is only upon further investigation that Brockton is able to discern that a body was, at one time, chained to a tree, only to become human bait and devoured by a bear. This would explain the lack of bones and all but makes identification impossible. Back at the University of Tennessee, Brockton and Miranda begin work on the leg bones, which helps narrow the search to a male of approximately twenty years of age. Another item points in the direction of this being a hate crime, perhaps white on black, which sends the case into some interesting directions in the heart of the South. Brockton and Miranda spend time debating and researching the rise of hate groups in the region, only to realise that there are many whose ideologies converge on a decided vehemence towards the inferior races. Meanwhile, Nick Satterfield, a serial killer that Brockton helped put away two decades before, has been able to escape from prison and has but one item on his agenda; destroy the life of the fine doctor any way he can. As Brockton and the authorities make a poignant discovery in their chain case, everything points back to Satterfield, as if this was all an attempt to lure Brockton out into the open. With no chance he’ll rest while Satterfield is on the loose, Brockton must become bait to the one man that has haunted him for the past twenty years. However, revenge is usually served without a shred of mercy, which does not bode well for another tied to Brockton. Bass continues to shine in another novel that will keep the reader interested as they find themselves educated on the intricacies of forensics and crime fighting.

I have long been a fan of Bass and the Body Farm series, through its twists and turns, both in the present and in throwback novels. While Bass works with a core set of characters, those who make brief appearances always fit so nicely into the larger storylines and provide needed expertise to keep the forensics of each case as detailed as possible. Bass will also offer the reader brief biographies of these characters, which helps place them, as well as reminding series fans of how they fit into the larger Bill Brockton timeline. Offering both crime-related character development and that of a personal nature, Bass is able to keep the reader hooked on two levels, and series regulars have come to expect the dual progression. While the area of forensic anthropology lends itself to bones and the stories they tell, there is both a unifying and differentiating aspect to the science. Unifying in that we are all the same on a skeletal level; bones of the same colour and contour. It is only when examining more closely that our differences, both between genders and cultural groups, become apparent, at least in shape and measurement. Bass seeks to explore the unity aspect throughout this book when exploring his ‘man chained to tree’ plot line, but it does bleed into a classroom setting for a brief period of the novel. What begins as an apparent hate crime that echoes back to the 1960s turns out to have strong ties to a more recent hatred brewing between ‘Americans’ and immigrants. Without divulging too much, the argument about immigration over the decades and how hate crimes have shifted, somewhat, becomes a prevalent topic. There remains a strong narrative that we are all the same, underneath our skin and cultural practices, which weaves itself into the story without getting too sappy. On a lighter note, I can also express that Bass tends to truly bring the story ‘home’ by using linguistics nuances of the region, which substantiates to the reader that we’re in Knoxville and not the Brahmin neighbourhoods of New England. I find this approach unique and very much appreciated, even if I have to slow down to process on occasion. Refreshing in its presentation and highly informative on many levels. 

Kudos, Messrs. Jefferson and Bass for another great novel. I have to wonder if, due to some of the plots presented in this novel, things are either soon to dwindle or take a few new twists. I am eager to see where you take readers next.