Thursday, September 8

The Bone Yard – Jefferson Bass

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

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