Bill Brockton is called away from his home under the University of Tennessee’s bleachers to Florida in the height of summer, at the request of forensic analyst Angie St. Claire – she’s convinced that her sister’s death, attributed by the coroner to suicide, was really a murder committed by the dead woman’s husband.
What promises to be a relatively quick trip is lengthened when an adolescent skull is found in the panhandle – decades old and damaged by time and predation, it bears the unmistakable signs of violent death. When a second skull, of similar age, vintage and trauma, appears Bill has to investigate. What he discovers reopens a dark and disturbing chapter in Florida’s history – and reveals a cycle of abuse that persists to this day.
I found this the most powerful in this six-part (to date) series. This is in part because it’s stepped away from the family aspect of Bill Brockton, which I was finding distracting, but mostly because of the subject matter. The heart of The Bone Yard is institutional child abuse, and the novel is a strong argument for change to a system that, particularly for young back men, compounds misfortune, poverty, youthful indiscretion and poor parenting, creating a perfect breeding ground for abuse, escalating crime, diminishing options, and a growing prison population. For anyone inclined to dismiss this as a problem of the past, disturbing contemporary cases are also discussed.
This is a novel, and the key message, along with a plea for better financing of forensic technology, is interwoven with a strong novel. There are also some light notes; I particularly liked the scene, clearly influenced by experience of police phone lines, when a press release about the first skull asks for anyone with information about a missing child (white, aged ten to twelve, and missing for months or even years) to call:
“We’ve had a few calls, including one from a guy who says that he’s the missing child.”
I laughed. “Did he say how he manages without his skull?”
“No,” Vickery deadpanned, “but I’m guessing the lack of a skull makes it a lot easier to go through life with his head up his ass.”
I was a little disappointed with the fifth novel in this series, and was relieved to find that my return was worth it - The Bone Yard combines an interesting mystery with a strong social message, including enough forensic detail to be genuine without becoming overly technical. The discomfort I had in Brockton's personality last time is not in evidence this time around, and the slightly more soapy aspects of the character arc (father/son issues and a pregnant ex-girlfriend fleeing from the law) are mercifully backgrounded. It is with relief and genuine excitement that I look forward to the release of book seven. - Alex
The Bill Brockton series:
Carved in Bone
Flesh and Bone
The Devil’s Bones
Bones of Betrayal
The Bone Yard
The Bone Thief