Monday, May 10, 2010

A Bone To Pick. . .

The Bone Thief: A Body Farm Novel by Jefferson Bass (F BAS Main & Avoca, SSB F BAS Main)
Reviewed by Doris

Need a kidney? Twenty thousand dollars will buy one from Pakistan or India. Need skin, bone, or other human tissue for a graft or transplant? Check out your friendly neighborhood grave robber or mortician because he just might be selling it. Legitimate and black market companies are doing business selling human tissue and the ripples of such activity go far and wide. The illegal trade for organs and tissue has exploded into a monumental international business netting the unscrupulous ‘investors” hundreds of millions of dollars as the demand for transplants and research tissue has far outstripped the number of people donating. Jefferson Bass—the writing team of Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson—look at this knotty legal and moral issue in their newest book, The Bone Thief.

Dr. Bill Brockton, head of the Anthropology Department of the University of Tennessee and frequent FBI consultant, has been asked to exhume the body of Trey Willoughby to pull DNA for a paternity test. What is a rather ordinary exercise becomes a stunner when Brockton and his assistant Miranda open the coffin and find Willoughby’s skeleton has no arms. Who amputated them and why? Those questions start the journey Brockton will take through the world of trafficking in human tissue. Taking on an undercover assignment for the FBI that threatens to totally compromise his reputation, Brockton struggles to sort out who the bad guys are while his family and friends believe he has become one of the criminals. Haunted by questions and feelings raised in the previous Body Farm book Bones of Betrayal, Brockton feels disgusted with himself, defeated, and broken. On every side, things are unraveling. His relationship with his son is even more strained than usual. Funding cuts are hurting his program at the University, including possibly taking away Miranda’s graduate assistantship. The ethical questions about transplants and tissue donation are hitting too close to home as his friend Dr. Eddie Garcia struggles to survive and deal with the loss of his hands. Brockton must ask himself if he will cross lines to save his friend and can he live with himself if he doesn’t. While he struggles to find his balance, life pitches forward at a reckless pace and the dilemmas become wrenching, leaving Brockton very apprehensive about the future. Soon the apprehension turns to terror as he fights for his life.

The Bone Thief is the fastest paced of the Body Farm novels by Jefferson and Bass. Its plot is the most tightly wound, and I found myself reluctant to put it down. Included of course are many references to real places, people, and cases on which Bill Bass has worked which gives the book authencity. The progression of Brockton’s character from Carved in Bone (the first book in the Body Farm series) to this book is both gratifying and wrenching because it is tragedy that has forged the changes. The Bone Thief is an excellent read and a major step forward for Jefferson and Bass as authors.

On a personal note: a thousand years ago when I was in college, I needed an anthropology class as an elective. My advisor suggested I take a class called Introductory Forensic Anthropology being taught by a young professor who had recently come to UTK from Kansas. I did and I lost fifteen pounds that quarter. The class, taught by the fascinating Dr. Bill Bass, was at 11:55 AM—lunchtime—and after seeing the slides he showed every day, I had no desire to eat much. The class was tremendous, one of the best I had in college. Dr. Bass is a marvelous teacher and his books always teach me as I read. Did you know one of his former students has developed an electronic “sniffer” that detects human decomposition? It was used to check the trunk of the car in which Caylee Anthony’s body was transported, and it confirmed decomposition. Did you know that Emory University has a hand transplant center that is making real progress which will help many of our soldiers who have lost hands in Iraq and Afghanistan? Did you know that, because of the fame garnered by Dr. Bill and the Body Farm, the Farm receives so many donations of bodies for research that the research facility is almost out of land?

Most importantly, The Bone Thief points our desperate need for organ and tissue donation. As of April 8, 2010, there were 106,878 Americans waiting for donors. Have you signed your donor card?????

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