“The Bone Yard” is a bit of a departure from previous Jefferson Bass novels in that almost all the action takes place in Florida, not Tennessee. It’s like a “very special episode” of a TV series when the main character travels someplace else and works with a different team. CBS did something similar when they spun off “CSI: Miami” from the original Vegas-based series. I will have to ask Jon Jefferson if the idea of a spin-off series of books occurred to him during the writing process.
Dr. Bill Brockton takes a break from his normal routine in Knoxville to assist with two investigations in Florida. The book opens at the Body Farm during a training session for the National Forensic Academy. One of the students, a forensic analyst from Florida, asks Dr. Brockton for help proving her sister was murdered. While he is in Jacksonville, a skull is discovered and Brockton helps uncover a greater mystery.
The sister’s faked suicide becomes a subplot as Brockton teams up with the analyst, Angie St. Claire, and a cigar-chomping (but non-smoking) FDLE agent named Stu Vickery. The skull leads the three investigators to the ruins of a reform school for boys. More bones are uncovered as is a diary from many years before. The injuries on the bones and the entries in the diary tell a horrifying story of physical abuse disguised as discipline perpetrated by the guards on the young inmates. The crimes of the past incite new crimes in the present as those with something to hide get desperate. A few well-placed clues give hints about what’s to come yet there’s enough of a twist to satisfy an experienced mystery reader.
The epilogue invites the reader to learn more about the real-life Florida State Reform School, which inspired its fictional counterpart. The St. Petersburg Times ran a Pulitzer-nominated series on the abuse at the school. The victims have their own website.
Brockton’s trip to Florida coincides with Jon Jefferson’s move to Tallahassee in real life. The continuing story arc from “Bones of Betrayal” and “The Bone Thief” is put on hold during the 13 days that “The Bone Yard” covers. Fortunately, the loose end about a woman named Isabella is acknowledged at the beginning and the end of the new book. I’m hopeful that next year’s installment brings Brockton back home to East Tennessee and to the world-famous Body Farm.