THE INQUISITOR'S KEY
By: Jefferson Bass
HarperCollins Publishers: New York
In this, the seventh “Body Farm Novel,” written by Dr.
Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson (collectively known as Jefferson Bass), the
authors have fashioned a mystery that takes the protagonist, Dr. Bill
Brockton, far from his familiar surroundings in and around the Body Farm and
the reader into realms of imagination not usually anticipated from this
series whose focus has been on crime scene forensics.
By way of brief background, Dr. Bill Brockton is the
fictional doppelganger of Dr. Bass, who some 30 years ago, founded
the University of Tennessee’s Anthropology Research Center, better known as
the Body Farm. This unique facility gathers scientific data regarding the
decomposition of human cadavers, both natural and man-made, to aid forensic
investigations by law enforcement agencies.
While aiding the FBI and DEA in the investigation of
the killing of an undercover agent, Brockton receives an international call
that his graduate assistant, Miranda Lovelady, has suffered a ruptured
appendix and has begged that he come Avignon, France, where she has been
working on an archaeological project. He literally drops everything to fly
to France but on his arrival in Marseilles, he is greeted by Miranda herself
and her project leader, French archaeologist Stefan Beauvoir! The summons
was a ruse to bring Brockton to France to consult on a wondrous discovery
the two have made. Deep within the bowels of the Palace of the Popes
(constructed during the “Babylonian Captivity” of the Papacy in Avignon
during the 14th Century) an ossuary – a box containing human
remains—has been discovered. The ossuary was sealed under the authority of
the Pope and featured etchings of a cross and a lamb—symbols of Christ. The
skeleton bore signs of crucifixion and the intriguing question—could this
possibly be the remains of Christ himself? Or is it the skeleton of a 14th
Century man who, for some reason, was secreted away in the Treasure Room of
the Palace of the Popes?
Brockton has been summoned, under admittedly dodgy
circumstances, to help solve the mystery of the crucified man. The authors
render a vividly clear description of the forensic investigation that
Brockton undertakes, including a facial reconstruction of the victim done in
Virginia, based on a CT scan run in an Avignon hospital and uploaded via
computer to the forensic artist in the U.S. The results are stunning in
that the results render a face very much like that of the ghostly visage on
the Shroud of Turin!
What follows is a highly imaginative tale that presents
a highly speculative explanation for the origin of the Shroud and how it
ties into the mysterious remains of the crucified man in the ossuary. The
search for truth is not without its present day dangers, however, as
Brockton, Miranda and Stefan Beauvoir become the targets of a shadowy
conspiracy whose goal seems to be possession of the skeletal remains—but to
what purpose and to what ends?
The book is not without its flaws, most of which seem
to center upon the protagonist Bill Brockton himself. He demonstrates a
stunning ignorance of European history and culture, especially for an
academic of international repute. But perhaps he slept through his
undergraduate Western Civ classes so he would be awake during his human
osteology class! The attraction he feels for Miranda, his grad assistant,
subordinate, and many years his junior, is a little on the creep
side—especially in the 21st Century.
But this is a very clever and inventive novel that
weaves real history and real historical figures—both from the 14th
Century and the present-- into its very fabric. The denouement may
be unnecessarily dark and overly byzantine but it remains a well-crafted and
well-researched tale of imaginative historical fiction. It is also a loving
homage to the city of Avignon and its descriptive flairs and
attention to local detail is admirable.
Three trowels for The Inquisitor’s Key.
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