Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Dr. Bill Bass established the Anthropology Research Facility at the University of Tennessee in 1981. If he had his way, it would have been called the A.R.F. You have to figure that at some point, the place will get named after him, making it the B.A.R.F. When Patricia Cornwell wrote about the facility, she popularized its nickname, the Body Farm. Dr. Bass studies the way human bodies decay in various situations. The Body Farm is yet another thing about Knoxville that fascinates me. I'm not sure that I want to actually go there and smell the decomp but I do enjoy reading about it.

The new novel, "Carved In Bone," was written by Dr. Bass and Jon Jefferson using the pseudonym Jefferson Bass. The pair also collaborated on the 2003 nonfiction book "Death's Acre." I just finished reading the novel in preparation for a radio interview with Dr. Bass this coming Thursday.

Much of the action takes place in fictional Cooke County, which appears to be a thinly disguised version of Cocke County, with a little bit of Greene County mixed in. The book inspired me to look online for the history of corruption in Cocke County. The News Sentinel published a timeline that includes a "media label" sure to amaze my friend Bean, who collects media labels. The article refers to "nationally recognized cockfighting enthusiast Donald H. Poteat."

Some names are changed yet others remain the same. Instead of Dr. Bill Bass, the Body Farm in the novel is run by Dr. Bill Brockton. His friend and sidekick is Art Bohanan, the real name of KPD's fingerprint expert. The book does a great job of capturing the flavor of East Tennessee from describing the scenery along the Tennessee River to portraying local slang like "don't care to" and "you'uns." A reference to Cormac McCarthy has got me interested in picking up a copy of "Child of God" next time I'm at McKay's.

In the
book, Dr. Brockton is called upon to examine an adipocere-covered corpse in a Cooke County cave. As he unravels the mystery of the body's identity, each new question brings him back to out of the way locations, some of which are booby trapped while others are hidden in kudzu. Dr. Brockton discovers that some of the unsavory characters come from the same shallow gene pool and share a trait of missing lateral incisors. When I interviewed Dr. Bass a couple of years ago he told me that my missing lateral incisors were a sign of advanced evolution. Now I'm wondering if he was pulling my leg.

The action scenes could use a little work but overall I found "Carved In Bone" to be an extremely satisfying read. As you would expect, the forensic detail is much more realistic than in other books of this genre. Dr. Bass told The Daily Beacon that he and Jon Jefferson signed a contract to write three Body Farm novels. Maybe the next book can combine some of my favorite things about Knoxville. Dr. Brockton could dig up the bones of Cas Walker.

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Anonymous Beth said...

I heard you on the radio this morning with Dr. Bass. I just love you and Kim. Mark is okay everynow and then. Were could I find a schedule for Dr. Bass appearences and lectures?


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