“The Breaking Point” by Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson, known professionally as Jefferson Bass, realistically uses forensics to solve crimes. Jefferson is a writer and documentary filmmaker while Dr. Bass is a forensic anthropologist and founder of the renowned research facility, the Body Farm. With all of their fictional books they intertwine a powerful crime mystery with details about forensic science.
The plot opens with FBI agents working at the Body Farm, taking a course on evidence response. They learn how to handle the location and identification of skeletal remains. Shortly thereafter, there is a devastating plane crash resulting in fragmenting body parts, making it difficult to identify the victims.
Working closely with the FBI the main character, Dr. Bill Brockton, is asked to help find the remains of a maverick millionaire who was supposedly killed in the fiery plane crash. Brockton has made a reputation for himself as a prominent forensic anthropologist while doing research and teaching at the University of Tennessee, home to the Body Farm. Brockton must determine if the philanthropist is a diabolical killer and has faked his own death or has really died in the crash.
What makes this story very powerful and a tearjerker is that Brockton suffers one crisis after another. The parallels with the prophet Job are evident, considering Brockton is a good person who is beset with horrendous disasters that take away all he holds dear. He is seen as drowning, with his life spinning out of control. First his identification of the crash victim(s) is called into question. Then he receives a threatening message from the serial killer who attempted to kill his family. Because this a prequel the next line might be a spoiler alert for those who did not read previous books: his beloved wife Kathleen, a soul mate and the source of his security, tells him she is dying of cancer.
The comparison to Job was done, according to Jefferson, because “I wanted to explore suffering. Dr. Brockton is a decent man who is caught up in personal and professional problems. We want to bring in something new in every book and not do retreads. Like Job, he is a man pushed to his limits, but unlike Job not everything turns out fine for him regarding his personal life. I think that is more realistic.”
One of the most interesting parts of the book is the discussion of veteran issues. A shout out is given to the Vietnam veterans, in the quote, “Our conflicted feelings-our national shame-had created an unwritten but undeniable tragic domestic policy: a policy of pretending that Vietnam had never happened, and of turning a blind, indifferent eye to Vietnam vets and their postwar troubles.” Yet, there is also a scene in the book where the research of the Body Farm, studying time of death, is called into question, since some of the subjects were corpses of veterans.
Dr. Bass explained to blackfive.net, “The scene in the book about the complaint regarding the veteran’s bodies is true, although we took artistic license. A major challenge to the Body Farm occurred when the Tennessee Department of Veteran Affairs discovered some of the research subjects were veterans. These were unclaimed bodies and the city/county did not want to incur the expense of a burial so they gave me the bodies. I did not know that some of the corpses were veterans. After I found out I sent the six bodies back. I am very sympathetic because I am a Korean War vet. They wanted to shut down the Body Farm but I prevailed since it is obvious that the research is valuable and helps to solve cases.”
Jon Jefferson regards “our country’s treatment of Vietnam vets as shameful. Returning Vietnam vets have paid the price for this national ambivalence, which I think is dreadful. I was lucky since I had a high lottery number drawn so I was not called. I put in the book a quote about how Dr. Brockton was able to stay out of the war.”
Although the story of “The Breaking Point” is fictional the science is all too real. What makes the plot fascinating is that readers will have a hard time separating fact from fiction. This novel has all the elements of a page-turner: mystery, danger, and suspense. Yet, it also tugs at people’s emotions as grief and loss are explored, something that can resonate with everyone.