I have been reading a lot of….. pulp novels lately. Or trying to, I guess. I have just been feeling like reading that sort of book; gritty, basic, fast-reading. However, I still do try to be somewhat selective. I mean, I try to choose novels that there is a chance I might enjoy on some level. Well, I kind of suspected from the start that I would not like this one, but it had just enough about it for me to give it a chance.
I do not have a lot of good to say about this novel. I probably should say nothing, then, right? And maybe what I will say will be more telling about myself as a reader than about the book. Other readers surely enjoyed this book and probably disagree with my sentiments, which is fine, because I do hope people read books that entertain them.
This is the first in the Body Farm series of novels, it is the only one I have read. It was published in 2006. “Jefferson Bass” is the penname for co-writers Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson.
To start, the first sentence of this review I wrote the word “pulp,” but I wanted to write “low-brow.” I did not, however, because I thought that might be off-putting to readers of this entry. Well, the truth is, this is low-brow stuff. And if that offends a reader, I guess maybe they can come and holler at me about it. To continue…. it is pretty basic writing level. A long time ago, I used software called Word Perfect; a word-processing software. You could have it scan your writing and it would judge it (what criteria?) and categorize it on a writing level. 8th Grade, High School, Undergraduate, Doctoral, etc. Something like that. I do not remember all of the details, I think it would give it a numeric score and that gave a range of levels. I certainly do not remember what the numerical breakdowns were, but this novel would get a rather low number. The sentences are structurally and grammatically correct. They are just not complex or far above basic reader level. Of course, this is what makes the book a speedy read.
The main character is both pathetic and yet vaguely interesting. He is just this side of bumbling oaf. His “witty” remarks are often bad puns or seem like forced retorts. He does not think fast on his feet. And he has got all sorts of family and personal life drama. If this character, Dr. Bill Brockton, were someone I knew in real life, I would find him intolerable and insufferable. The only good thing I can say about him is that he does know his science-stuff.
The plot is heavily related to the setting. This novel takes place in East Tennessee Appalachian Mountains, and hammers each and every stereotype and trope that ever fell off of those highlands. Personally, I have never found anything charming about backwoods, mountaintop, Appalachia. I have no interest in things categorized as “Redneck,” “hick,” or “country.” I was raised on water and I love water. Mountains make me unhappy, generally. Any weird backwoods Southern activities that go on in mountains usually make me disgusted. Put it this way: if you are no fan of The South, this novel will do nothing to change your opinion. If you love The South, this novel will make you cringe because it grinds on all the worst aspects of all of the stereotypes.
Finally, the crimes and the forensics. Well, the Body Farm concept is cool and awesome and a little underused, actually in this novel. I think the science and the factual data is authentic and honest; I’m not someone who has studied these things, though. However, though the main character is a forensics guy on this case, I feel like he does more actual detective work on the case than anyone else. And, as mentioned above, this is not the guy you want running a case. There are subplot storylines that are kind of gruesome and grubby – they do work effectively to flesh out (pun!) other characters and the setting, but its too much gore and gross. Sure, crime is awful and hideous, but there seemed to be so much of the same crime heaped and heaped on. Even the main crime is so….stereotyped.
As a comparison, fair or not, I preferred the Kathy Reichs’ novels. Many of those take place in Montreal (a place I love), so perhaps I am overly-biased. Now, I actually found book two of this Body Farm series in my stacks of TBR novels. I realized I did not have book one, so I bought this novel. I think I will probably read book two, but I cannot think I will read beyond that.
In fairness to readers: this novel has scenes of rooster fighting, tobacco consumption, and shotgun usage. So, a normal day in The South……