Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Bone Yard: A Body Farm Novel, Book # 6

1.         Carved in Bone
2.         Flesh and Bone (January 24, 2007)
3.         The Devil’s Bones (February 5, 2008)
4.         Bones of Betrayal (February 27, 2009)
5.         The Bone Thief (March 23, 2010)
6.         The Bone Yard (March 8, 2011) - 4 out of 5

Narrator: Tom Stechschulte - 3.5 out of 5 
Length: 9:40 hours

FTC Disclosure:  Harper Collins Publishers has graciously provided me with an audio version of this book for reviewing purposes.  Aside from this courtesy copy, I have received no payment or services in exchange for this review.  

Dr. Bill Brockton is a world-renowned forensic anthropologist – yes, like the chick from Bones – who teaches at the "Body Farm" in Tennessee, an institution for hands-on training in forensic science. It is summer when Dr. Brockton gets a call from a former student and a forensic specialist with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, asking for his assistance with her sister’s murder investigation.  An investigation that Angie St. Claire is conducting on her own after the small-town cops in Georgia deem her sister committed suicide by laying down on a couch and sticking a shotgun down her throat hours after she and her husband had a fight.  Bored to death with classes over, papers waiting to be graded and articles waiting to be written, Dr. Brockton rushes to the assistance of his student.   While visiting Northern Florida (more southern Alabama really), an old skull from a murdered child is discovered and the Florida police ask Dr. Brockton to take a look. As the bones start piling up and witnesses start getting killed off, a diary from the 1960s shows up to light the way.

Scientific Suspenseful Heartbreak:
A) The Science
In many ways, this series and this novel blur the edges of reality and fiction.  The author’s afterword explains in detail exactly which parts of this novel are true, but even without giving anything away, the basic science underlying the novel is factual.  First of all, Jefferson Bass, like Ilona Andrews, is really a pen name for two writers.  One of the authors, Dr. Bill Bass, like the fictional Dr. Bill Brockton, is a world-renowned forensic anthropologist.  The Body Farm, at which the fictional Dr. Bill teaches, is a place that the real Dr. Bill founded, officially known as the University of Tennessee's Anthropology Research Facility. Because the real Dr. Bill writes a first-person point of view of the fictional Dr. Bill, there’s tons of information on forensic science that’s accurate, or at least sounds accurate to me. For the most part, this was well done, but like in A Discovery of Witches, the academics are sometimes a bit too much, and although I appreciated it, my mind did wonder.

B) The Suspense 
The book is a mystery and a thriller, but I’ve listened to plenty of mysteries and thrillers that fail to engage the reader.  The Bone Yard works.  It’s all in the pacing.  So you’re listening to the scientific information, to the description of the scenes, to the description of the hotel, of a memory, and then the sentences start getting clipped. The descriptions start slowing down, and zooming in. It’s almost as if there’s that creepy background music behind the words. You know that something’s coming around the corner, and when it does, you still jump. There aren’t many such situations in the book, but when they pop up, they catch you.

C) The Heartbreak 
Early in the audiobook, Dr. Bill describes watching a documentary on child soldiers of Sudan, and how listening to something so horrible done to a child made it difficult for him to sleep at night.  That’s a precursor to some of the parts of this audiobook.  When the police start to suspect that the skull they found dated back to the 1960s, I was a bit disappointed.  It’s hard for a listener to connect to a tragedy that happened far away or long ago.  That’s where the diary comes in. Jefferson Bass does a great job writing from the point of view of a very young boy. Of course, it’s written much better than most adults can tell a story, but the voice is sincere and authentic.  It grips the reader immediately. You empathize with the boy, feeling what he feels.  And that’s pain.  The main conflict hurts to listen to don't listen to it before going to bed.

On Narration:
This is the first time I listened to an audiobook read by Tom Stechschulte, and the first thing I noticed was how much he sounded like an adult Tom Hanks.  His voice has a nice tenor to it that works well with the narrative tone in The Bone Yard.  It’s part film noir and part professorial. I was a bit put off by Tom Stechschulte's female voices are off, but inauthentic female voices are rather usual for male narrators.  That aside, Tom Stechschulte’s villain voices are epic.  He actually puts a slight growl in the reading.

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