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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Review: The Inquisitor's Key by Jefferson Bass

Title: The Inquisitor’s Key
Author: Jefferson Bass
Series: Body Farm (#7)
Publisher:  William Morrow
Publication Date:  May 8, 2012
Reviewer: Ethan

Summary: 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.
Brockton and Miranda link the bones to the haunting image on the Shroud of Turin, revered by millions as the burial cloth of Christ, and then a laboratory test finds the bones to be two thousand years old. The finding triggers a deadly tug-of-war between the anthropologists, the Vatican, and a deadly zealot who hopes to use the bones to bring about the Second Coming—and trigger the end of time. 

Review: It is no secret that the ancient Catholic Church saw years of corrupt leaders, cover-ups and conspiracies. For modern mystery and thriller authors, this storied past has provided inspiration for countless gripping tales. In The Inquisitor's Key, the latest installment in the Body Farm series by duo author Jefferson Bass, the past of the church mixes with present day themes to form a unique take on the modern thriller. 

Dr. Bill Brockton is no stranger to death. He works at the Body Farm, a Tennessee based institution devoted to the study of the human anatomy, and serves as a consultant on murder cases, providing his expert analyses of human remains. As he comes to the latest crime scene, where the burned remains of a presumed drug runner lie, he can't help but miss the companionship of his usual assistant/student Miranda Lovelady, who is assisting with an excavation in Avignon, France. As he begins to study the charred remains, he notices that gas is still leaking. With barely enough time to react, the building is enveloped in flames, and Brockton narrowly escapes the same death as the poor soul he was meant to be examining. It is all but apparent that whoever created this crime scene intends for Brockton to be his next victim. 

On top of this, Brockton is summoned by Miranda to come to France to assist with the excavation. When he arrives to the site, The Palace of Popes, he is faced with an extremely puzzling case. The bones that have been discovered in a subterranean chamber contain wounds that resemble those depicted in the story of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Despite being skeptical of this, evidence points that the age of the bones are from the same time period as the life of Christ. When a composite reconstruction from the skull eerily matches the shadowy face engrained in the Shroud of Turin, said to be the burial cloth of Christ, Brockton and Miranda become caught in an international war for the ownership of the remains. 

Although the sub-genre of "religious thrillers" has grown in recent years (thanks in large part to the best-selling DaVinci Code), few novels have managed to come up with a truly original story. The Inquisitor's Key finds the perfect balance between historical fact, intriguing speculation, and compelling characters. Altogether, these elements make a highly entertaining, original thriller. Even in the historical flashbacks, the authors managed to maintain the quick pace and accessible language of the "present day" sections, avoiding the pitfalls that many "historical fiction" authors find themselves in. The relationship between Brockton and Miranda comes off as completely genuine, and even the less important characters are written with enough sincerity to keep them from becoming one-dimensional. Overall, I found this novel impossible to put down and enjoyed the story to the very end. Although this was my first encounter with the Body Farm series, I was immediately drawn to the characters and their story. I highly recommend this novel to all fans of mysteries, thrillers, and historically speculative fiction. 

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