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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Beyond the Body Farm: A Legendary Bone Detective Explores Murders, Mysteries, and the Revolution in Forensic Science » User review

A thoroughly entertaining series of forensic vignettes

  • May 21, 2010
Tennessee's Anthropological Research Facility (ARF), made famous by its more colloquial nickname in Patricia Cornwell's novel "The Body Farm" is a world class scientific institution dedicated to the thesis that dead men DO tell tales.

Did you know, for instance, that entomological studies have determined the rate at which blow flies and maggots attack a decaying corpse is related to a wide variety of variables such as humidity and accumulated degree-days since the date of death? Of course, this means that historical weather records and the degree to which a corpse is infested by flies, maggots, pupae and pupa casings can be used in an uncannily accurate model to determine time since death. I was awestruck to find out that one dedicated graduate student spent months preparing a database of the forensic evidence that is left behind when a murder victim is dismembered by a saw - ANY kind of saw ... hack saw, coping saw, cross cut saw, ripping saw, circular saw, configured with ANY kind of blade, tooth count, pitch, thickness and so on. I was equally fascinated to learn of the minor skeletal differences that can be used to distinguish between the world's major races - caucasoid, negroid and mongoloid. Other differences such as sex, age and stature can be determined to an incredibly high level of accuracy with an almost unbelievably small amount of intact skeletal evidence.

Bill Bass's first book, "Death's Acre" is a poignant autobiography, both professional and personal, of Bill Bass, the Body Farm's celebrated founder; a history of some of the most interesting forensic cases that were the driving force or the raison d'être behind the directions in which Bill Bass's professional life evolved; a celebration of the development of his students and professional colleagues; and, of course, a history of the science of forensic anthropology which, even today, might be considered to be in its infancy and barely out of the nursery.

The sequel, "Beyond the Body Farm" is just as exciting but, rather than being a mere memoir is more a collection of vignettes describing the details of a series of specific cases that Bill Bass found particularly challenging, especially moving or perhaps even unique in the history of his work on the Body Farm. For example, you'll be amazed at the ability of modern science to determine the cause of death of a Persian soldier whose remains, dead and buried for thousands of years, were discovered by an archeological team working in Asia. You'll be charmed at how forensic reconstruction of facial features (made famous in fiction by Iris Johansen's character, Eve Duncan) helped to identify the remains of a long-lost girl and provide closure to a grieving family. You'll learn that it is virtually impossible for a criminal to cover his tracks with even the intense heat of an accelerated arson fire. And, my personal favourite, you'll enjoy the description of Bill Bass's fascinating work with the family of the Big Bopper to put to rest any ideas of scandal, foul play or missing bodies after his untimely death in a tragic airplane crash.

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed the two non-fiction works that Dr Bass has produced, I'm looking forward to the fictional Body Farm novel series that begins with "Flesh and Bone". Highly recommended.

Paul Weiss

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More Beyond the Body Farm: A Legend... reviews
Quick Tip by . July 01, 2010
If you ever wanted to know just how tough real CSI is - read Dr. Bass!
Quick Tip by . June 09, 2010
Really good book if you love reading about true crimes and the forensic science behind investigations.
About the reviewer
Paul Weiss ()
Ranked #15
   A modern day dilettante with widely varied eclectic interests. A dabbler in muchbut grandmaster of none - wilderness camping in all four seasons, hiking, canoeing, world travel,philately, … more
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