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Book Reviews   |    
The Bone Thief

The Bone Thief
by by Jefferson Bass.; New York, William Morrow, 2010, 368 pages, $24.99

Reviewed by Lloyd I. Sederer, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 2011; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.00621519a
View Author and Article Information

The reviewer reports no competing interests.

Dr. Sederer is medical director, New York State Office of Mental Health, and adjunct professor, Columbia-Mailman School of Public Health, New York City.

Bill Brockton, Ph.D., the protagonist of this novel, is a tortured soul—but he's not that interesting. However, his field is. Want to find hitherto lost or hidden dead bodies? Want to know when and how they met their maker? Then you need a forensic anthropologist, not just the police. And that science has blossomed, thanks especially to the work of Dr. Bill Bass, whose research facility at the University of Tennessee, affectionately called the Body Farm, has studied body decomposition for 30 years.

This fifth novel is about the innocent dead and the sociopathic living—and the Body Farm. It derives from the ongoing collaboration of Dr. Bass with Jon Jefferson, a journalist and documentary filmmaker. Their work has been best-seller stuff, and it keeps coming.

In this tale, we encounter Dr. Brockton (Bill Bass' fictional avatar) after his wife dies. As if that were not enough, his first love as a widower is murdered, and he is (falsely) accused of killing her, which doesn't do a lot for his mood or career. After dusting himself off once again, he has a one-night stand with a librarian, who then kills another scientist and maims a close friend and colleague, only to discover she is on the lam and apparently pregnant with his child.

The main story, intertwined with that of our struggling hero, has to do with the black market in body parts—actually an important story if you need a kidney or a cornea or a hand (1). But Jefferson Bass' story of grave robbing, murder, extortion, an FBI sting, and even university politics left me flat. There were some good chase scenes, but it all was too pat, with an “all's well that ends well” conclusion that stretched too many mental ligaments, so to speak.

I went back to the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy by Stieg Larsson to see what is missing from The Bone Thief, and what it is missing are truly intriguing characters, nail-biting suspense, meticulous plot, and stupendous pace.

The Body Farm books have developed an audience, and perhaps that audience includes you. But if you can rarely get to a work of fiction, you may want to let these Body Farm books rot and use what precious time you have left above ground to read something else.

Satel  S:  Desperately seeking a kidney.  New York Times Magazine ,  Dec 16, 2007
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Satel  S:  Desperately seeking a kidney.  New York Times Magazine ,  Dec 16, 2007
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