Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Bones of Avignon by Jefferson Bass

Medieval mystery meets modern-day murder, as Dr. Brockton and Miranda Lovelady  investigate the discovery of ancient bones found in the Palace of the Popes in Avignon, France.

Instead of a simple phone call asking for his assistance, Miranda inveigles her associate to tell Bill Brockton, the ‘bone specialist’ and Miranda’s lecturer and mentor, that she’s in hospital with acute appendicitis. This alerts us to the fact Brockton has suppressed feelings for Miranda and despite being twenty years her senior, he experiences teen-like fantasies and jealousy about her which constantly interferes with his scientific concentration. At the opening chapter, Brockton is working on a dead undercover DEA agent, and when things start getting sinister in France, he believes he has been followed by the drug dealers trying to remove him from the picture.

The first thing Bill reveals is that these bones are of a man in his sixties, not the 33 year old Christ everyone is expecting, though when they subject the skull to computer enhancement, the face revealed bears a close resemblance to that on the Shroud of Turin – another fake, or irrefutable proof?

If you harbour pre-conceived ideas about religious fanatics, dipsomaniac Irish priests and French policeman, this book will confirm everything you ever thought.  I loved Inspector DeCartes, who when asked if he is a relative of the man who said, ‘I think, therefore I am,’ quips back, ‘I think I am a relative, therefore I am.’  He also describes the ‘Lunatic Fringe’ as, ‘the fluffy edge of crazy’ - Love it!

The storyline concentrates largely on the processes of authenticating the bones, or not authenticating them, and the convoluted historical background of the alleged origins of the Shroud of Turin and a story of unrequited love between a cleric and a lady called Laura with some poetry by Yeats added to the mix.

The historical background of fourteenth century Avignon was fascinating, but it ran alongside a modern day murder/kidnap/ransom situation and I’m afraid the history slowed down the modern story to a crawl so I was tempted to skip it to get to the action.

Jefferson Bass is the writing team of Dr Bill Bass, founder of the University of Tennessee's Body Farm - the world's first laboratory dedicated to the study of human decomposition - and Jon Jefferson, which explains the detailed and fascinating science bit!

I did enjoy this book, but I would have liked to have appreciated Fourteenth Century Avignon for its own sake rather as architecture propping up a modern day narrative.