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"twenty percent of Americans never see a dentist"

  • Jul 13, 2010

Fans of author Rick Boyer's nine Doc Adams detective thrillers need no reminding who Charles H. Adams is. Because he is a medical doctor, he has been taught to recognize the odd small differences that signal what is wrong with a patient. That skill makes for a great detective, as well. As a dental surgeon Doc Adams is constantly called on by Massachusetts police to analyze the insides of corpses' mouths to identify them, to prove their age, verify  their health and socio-economic status and, generally, to find clues that solve almost unsolvable crimes. 

It is good to remember from time to time that Charles Hatton Adams, M.D., D. D. S, is officially a part-time Forensic Pathologist of the Commonwealth and that he takes his dental work seriously. In the novel GONE TO EARTH, detecting identitiy and sniffing out crime via interiors of the mouths and dental work of human corpses is unusually prominent in advancing the fast-moving plot.

So do not take it amiss when Doc mutters under his breath from time to time about Americans' inattention to their molars. Thus:

"It might surprise many people, but twenty percent of Americans never see a dentist. Never. And less than half see one regularly. ... of Americans over fifty-five, one-fourth have no natural teeth left. None. This in the richest country in the world, with the best trained and equipped dentists in the world.  ... And nothing reveals the vast gulf between the haves and the have-nots as clearly and powerfully as the inside of a mouth" (Ch. 8).

What provoked this outburst by Doc Adams?

Doc had just completed his official report as Forensic Pathologist on six skulls recently dug up across a creek from his newly acquired getaway farm in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. There were various "missing persons" from about a year ago that the skulls and teeth likely belonged to. But Doc was having a hard time.

-- One skull might have been Melissa Hendricks's. Doc had dental records on Melissa from age ten. But nothing later and no available parents to help with the ID. Positive identification was not possible.

-- Gigantic and terrifying Werner ("Buddy") Franz was reported missing, but had no dental records ever. One corpse dug up had matched Franz's size and known shape. But was it Franz?

Most of the other skulls were of Caucasians "aged mid-twenties whose mouth exhibits nothing remarkable except general indications of a lower-income status and medically deficient childhood, as evidenced by the poor condition of the teeth ..."

But GONE TO EARTH is much more about motorcycles and the mores of motorcycle gangs than it is about teeth. It is also about the twisted psyche of Buddy Franz. It is soon clear that Franz loves to torture animals and kill people. Buddy  is below normal intelligence and yet his murder plots show considerable skill in advance planning. How explain this?

There is also in GONE TO EARTH sibling love, incest and hatred. Additionally: personal loyalty to evildoers that is hard to fathom.

Once Doc Adams is nearly trampled to death by a stallion goaded by Buddy Franz to attack him, Doc decides to fight back, rather than sell his farm and run for cover. From then on, mayhem is non-stop and the hair rises on the back of a reader's neck and may not go down for several hours.

GONE TO EARTH may be the most nearly perfect of Rick Boyer's nine DOC ADAMS mysteries. Mysteries abound in it, as do good clues and fienishly diverting red herrings. I, for one, guessed wrong until the very end about whodunnit. Chills and thrills, too. How can a killer nearly seven feet tall remain generally unseen or at least unnoticed, even in daytime?

Don't let this one go unread!


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About the reviewer
(Thomas) Patrick Killough ()
Ranked #94
I am a retired American diplomat. Married for 47 years. My wife Mary (PhD in German and Linguistics) and I have two sons, six grandsons and two granddaughters. Our home is Highland Farms Retirement Community … more
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Author: Rick Boyer
Publisher: Fawcett Columbine,c1990.

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