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  • ISBN-13: 9780060875299
  • ISBN-10: 0060875291


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Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 159.
  • Review Date: 2007-07-16
  • Reviewer: Staff

Forensic anthropologist Bass nicely complements his memoir, Death’s Acre, with this unnervingly cheerful collection (ably co-written by science journalist Jefferson) of case studies and anecdotes from the field of corpse identification. With careful attention to detail and the occasional darkly humorous aside, the authors describe charred maggot cocoons; the grotesquely dismembered victims of a fireworks factory explosion; and the forensic uses of sonar, scanning electron microscopes and computer databases. Disparaging “the CSI effect” on jurors who expect DNA testing to be quick and exact,Bass extols the virtues of old-fashioned legwork and gut reactions, though he’s always quick to admit when his methods and intuition fall short. The authors keep the narrative flow moving nicely, and Bass’s voice is practical, passionate and eminently Southern—and his decades of teaching experience at the University of Tennessee come through strongly in such helpful suggestions as “If you decide to murder somebody, don’t think that you can completely cover your tracks with fire.” Strong-stomached readers who like to get dirt under their nails will gladly follow the UT forensic anthropology team up mountains and into rivers as they put names and faces to long-decayed bodies. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Sept. 4)

 
BookPage Reviews

Studying death down on the farm

Solving crimes has never looked easier, and thanks to TV dramas such as "CSI" and "Bones," and documentaries including "Forensic Files" and high-tech, highly hyped explorations (is that mummy really Queen Nefertiti?), we're all armchair forensic scientists. In truth, many cases don't wrap with a denouement. Though corpses and skeletal remains provide clues, body language isn't always so easily decipherable. But it is compelling, as detailed by Dr. Bill Bass and co-author Jon Jefferson in Beyond the Body Farm.

Forensic anthropologist Bass created the now-famous "Body Farm." Located in a woodsy area near the University of Tennessee Medical Center, it is an official dumping ground for bodies—which are allowed to decompose and then are studied by forensics students. Patricia Cornwell popularized the place with her 1994 novel The Body Farm. It got nonfiction treatment when Bass and Jefferson (a science writer) teamed for 2003's Death's Acre. Now the authors take us on a journey beyond the farm's perimeters—detailing cases involving biting, burning, shooting, knifing, plane crashes and more.

This book is scientifically authoritative, as well as accessible to mainstream crime buffs—though not for the squeamish. Some cases are heartbreaking; at least one is downright weird. That would be the 2006 exhumation of performer J.P. Richardson Jr., better known as The Big Bopper, singer of "Chantilly Lace." Dead since the 1959 Iowa plane crash that also took the lives of Buddy Holly and Richie Valens, the Bopper was dug up at the request of his son—who was curious about the extent of his father's injuries (due to some notions involving a gun that was on board the ill-fated plane). Bass expected to find a decomposed corpse, but when the coffin lid was popped, he found himself staring at a near-perfectly preserved Bopper, complete with vintage crew cut. Bass, who gave kudos to the embalmer, had to use a portable X-ray system to decipher the injuries—which didn't include a gunshot wound. Case—and coffin—closed.

Biographer and reporter Pat H. Broeske has worked as a producer for Court TV.

 
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