Dr. Bill Brockton is in charge of the Body Farm in Knoxville, Tennessee. This is a place where human corpses are left exposed to the elements so that scientists can study what happens to them. The doctor is called to a cave in the nearby Great Smokey Mountains where a body has been found in a cave. As it has been effectively sealed off from the outside air the remains are mummified: it's one of the strangest case he has ever encountered.
The cave is in Cooke County, a rather remote area, where there's a history of lawlessness and criminality, and corruption within the official law that does exist. Dr. Brockton senses immediately that the local sheriff is hiding something in connection with the body in the cave, but getting him to reveal what he knows will require some ingenuity on his part. And what part does Jim O'Connor, a man with a ciminal past, play in all this? Despite himself the doctor is drawn to O'Connor and trusts him over the sheriff. What he doesn't realise is how dangerous this tangled web of a case is going to become and how much his personal safety will be jeopardised.
The author, Jefferson Bass, is in fact two authors in one... Jon Jefferson, a writer, and Dr. Bill Bass, a forensic anthropologist. Dr. Bass did actually work at the University of Tennessee and founded The Body Farm. There are nine books in the Body farm series and Carved in Bone is book one.
For me, the best thing about this book was the setting. We drove down through that area - The Great Smokey Mountains of East Tennessee - on the way from North Carolina to Memphis back in 2006 and thought it was stunning. So this was a nice reminder of that holiday and the authors convey the beauty and sense of isolation very well indeed. I had no idea that one of the biggest cash crops there is marijuana, grown quietly in isolated valleys where law enforcement can't find them.
Storywise I found the plot interesting but the writing and background a bit 'blokey'. I've come across the 'male, middle-aged main character who has countless much younger women chasing after him' scenario before. I know this does happen in real life sometimes but for some reason I can't help but find it rather eye-rolling every time I encounter it in books. I think I must be a really cynical old lady. But really... the mystery of the body in the cave, who she is, why she was murdered etc. is more than strong enough to hold up on its own, especially with that glorious setting... for me personally, the romantic subplot was superfluous. Your mileage may vary, as they say.
The book is peopled with some very colourful characters too, so there is plenty of interest, plus a few amusing scenes here and there as the doctor is taken to various mountain locations and has to cope with some peculiar situations. He's out of his comfort zone and it was fun to read about.
I shall probably read more in this series as there was enough about it to like and it is, after all, a first book. I try to cut a bit of slack for a first attempt.