Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Literally the Best Reviews: Without Mercy

Without Mercy -- Jefferson Bass
William Morrow Publishers
352 Pages

As I’ve said before, once I find an author I like, I stay true to all the books they write. This is especially so in the cases of series. I like to see the evolution of the main characters as the authors learn more about them and attempt to flesh out a deeper, well-rounded part of the story. This week’s author(s) has decided that it’s time for their main character to finally retire, and along with him, they too will be retiring.

Jefferson Bass is the pseudonym for the writing duo of Dr. William Bass and Jon Jefferson. Dr. Bass is a retired forensic anthropologist who instituted the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility in 1971. Better known as the Body Farm, Bass used this facility to assist researchers in the ways that a body undergoes decomposition in various settings. He’s used this experience to add a very realistic touch to his works of fiction.

Jon Jefferson is a writer and filmmaker who initially worked with Bass to write Bass’s memoir. After that initial collaboration, the two decided to write a series of fictional books based on happenings at the Body Farm. They published the first book in the series in 2006 with Carved in Bone. This latest book, Without Mercy, is the tenth book in the Body Farm/Bill Brockton series.

Bill Brockton is the main protagonist of the series. Brockton is a forensic anthropologist at the University of Tennessee and is in charge of the Body Farm. While investigating a bizarre murder that seems to be an unexplained hate crime, he comes face to face with an old nemesis hell-bent on destroying everything he holds dear as a means to settle an old grudge.

While a serial killer stalks him and attempts to rob him of all his friends and family as a further punishment, Brockton must face the inevitable departure of his graduate assistant, Miranda. Having completed her PhD., Miranda is looking to blaze her own trail and start a career. Brockton is realizing that, as his family and friends are threatened and his assistant is preparing to leave, his whole life has taken a sudden turn. Maybe it’s time for retirement.

From book #1, all the way through to this final book, I’ve been enthralled with the Jefferson Bass Body Farm books. The authors walk a fine balance between the real, scientific terms of the murders and investigations and the fictional world where the novels are set. This blend makes the narrative that much more realistic.

Even for the layperson, this is a great book and great series. While there is a good deal of scientific information regarding the decomposition of the human body, the reader does not get mired in all the detail. The relationships that fill the backstories are always interesting and evolving over the course of the series. Without Mercy continues this tradition, and it will keep readers turning page after page.

Probably my only issue with this particular installment of the series is the very overt political undertones connected to every facet of Brockton’s inner thoughts. I do not begrudge an author, or in this case authors, delivering a message of their views of the world around them. That is a major part of the art world, and I fully support it. This time, however, it seemed out of place with what we’ve learned about Brockton over the previous nine books.

In all fairness, I do have another issue with this book. It is the last one of the series. In a spoiler alert, Bill Brockton decides to hang up the rubber gloves and forensic kit. In the author’s note at the end of the book, the authors also give us the disappointing news that they, too, are retiring. After a decade and ten books, they decided they could go no further with the characters. We have to keep in mind that Dr. Bass is 88 years old. Maybe he wants to sit back and relax after a long and illustrious career.

I am very sad to see the retirement of Jefferson Bass. I always eagerly awaited the appearance of one of their books on the New Mystery Releases shelves at the Lockport Library. I will miss those books. Heck, I may even have to start the series all over. Yes, they are that good. While the OCD in me meant that I had to read the books in order as they came out, it doesn’t mean that you couldn’t just read this edition of the series. Enough of the backstory is explained that you won’t be lost.

Dr. Bass and Mr. Jefferson, I want to thank you for the decade of great reading. I wish you the best in any new endeavors you find yourself in.

Craig Bacon claims to know where all the bodies are buried, but that could be because it’s part of his day job.