In the latest Body Farm novel, “The Inquisitor’s Key,” one character refers to “The Da Vinci Code” by the common expletive for bovine manure. It made me laugh because the publicists for Jefferson Bass seem eager to capitalize on some of the success enjoyed by Dan Brown’s controversial book. For example, the press release for “The Inquisitor’s Key” reveals a major plot point right away:
Miranda Lovelady, Dr. Bill Brockton’s protégé, is spending the summer helping excavate a newly discovered chamber beneath the spectacular Palace of the Popes in Avignon, France. There she discovers a stone chest inscribed with a stunning claim: inside lie the bones of none other than Jesus of Nazareth. Faced with a case of unimaginable proportions, Miranda summons Brockton for help proving or refuting the claim. Both scientists are skeptical—after all, fake relics abounded during the Middle Ages—but evidence for authenticity looks strong initially, and soon grows stronger.
In Catholic school, we were taught that Jesus ascended into heaven, which means that His bones would no longer be on Earth. A discovery of His skeleton would question the divinity of Jesus. The book, of course, is fiction. Brockton is asked to determine if the bones are from the first century or the fourteenth century.
The story jumps back and forth between the 1300s and the present. In the flashback chapters, the action centers on an inquisitor who later becomes pope and on an artist who creates a portrait of a crucified man on a shroud. The skeleton under the Palace belongs to a crucifixion victim who bears a strong resemblance to the image on the Shroud of Turin. The novel cites real science to explain how the image on the Shroud could have been created by a medieval artist.
Saints known as the Incorruptibles, specifically Saint Bénézet, get mentioned in chapter five. I first heard of the Incorruptibles in 2008 and asked Jefferson and Bass about them during an interview in 2009. Certain unusual conditions make it appear that those saints’ bodies did not decay. Their flesh turned into adipocere, also known as grave wax.
Admittedly, I am a fan of the Body Farm novels. I was a little anxious about the press release, fearing an anti-Catholic slant. Without ruining the story’s suspense, I will say that I found the mystery of the bones and the shroud to be exciting and satisfying. There are some evil characters who are Catholic but there are some evil non-Catholic characters too. The non-religious Brockton questions his own beliefs along the way.
“The Inquistor’s Key” hits stores on Tuesday. If you can’t wait, download the short prequel “Madonna and Corpse” from Amazon.com for 99¢. As a bonus, you get the first six chapters of “The Inquisitor’s Key.”
The official book release event will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 8, at the New Hope Center in Oak Ridge. Tickets cost $31 with proceeds benefiting United Way of Anderson County, Friends of Literacy and the William M. Bass Forensic Anthropology Building. Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass will give a presentation and will sign books for those present. Jennifer Alexander and I are co-emcees for the evening. More information can be found at BoneZones.com.
Using an old NPR trick, Jefferson and Dr. Bass recorded an interview with me to promote the new book and their upcoming appearances. A podcast of the thirty-minute program can be found at the bottom of this blog post. If you’re a completist, you can find my seven previous Body Farm podcasts at these links:
- “Carved in Bone” podcast
- “Flesh and Bone” podcast
- “Beyond the Body Farm” (non-fiction) podcast
- “The Devil’s Bones” podcast
- “Bones of Betrayal” podcast
- “The Bone Thief” podcast
- “The Bone Yard” podcast