An Interview with Jefferson Bass

As with all the Jefferson Bass books, their latest, THE BREAKING POINT, intertwines a powerful crime mystery with details about forensic science. In this storyline past, present, and future collide to throw respected forensic anthropologist Bill Brockton’s successful, secure life into devastating turmoil regarding his career and personal life.

Elise Cooper: Would you agree that Dr. Bill Brockton can be described as brave, determined, and resourceful?

Dr. Bill Bass: I think his behavior is similar to my co-author and friend Jon Jefferson.

Jon Jefferson: The professional side of Dr. Brockton is definitely Dr. Bass: chair of the Anthropology Department at the University of Tennessee, creator of the Body Farm, renowned forensic consultant to the FBI and law enforcement agencies. Regarding his personality, Dr. Brockton is less cautious than Bill Bass, which I guess makes him more like me including being impetuous, imaginative, and headstrong. Think of it this way, both doctors have incredible decency and as with a Venn Diagram there are some parts from Bill Bass and some from Jon Jefferson.

EC: Is research still happening at the Body Farm?

BB: Yes. For example, besides looking at how long it takes magnets to attack the body, they are looking at various muscles in the body to see which decays the fastest as well as how grave vegetation affects decay. In my other facility we are looking at how long it takes the teeth to fall out of a decaying body, and if we can fit them back into the socket of a body for identification purposes. This is very important, especially in identifying children’s bodies since they do not leave fingerprints that last very long. The reason for this is that theirs is water based until they reach puberty and then turn oil-based.

EC: Can you discuss the veteran issues explored in this book?

BB: 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.

JJ: Regarding the scene about Vietnam vets I wrote it to show compassion. Our country’s treatment of them has been 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.

EC: Why the parallel with the prophet Job?

JJ: 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.

EC: What do you think of the forensic TV shows like CSI, Bones, and NCIS?

BB: They take an awful lot of artistic license, although they have certainly educated the public about forensics. One problem I have is that they have a DNA machine sitting on the edge of their desk. It would not take such a short time to find out the answer, but more like two to three months. The Judicial world must deal with the ‘CSI Effect.’ Jurors’ opinions of the case are based on what they have seen on TV and what they think law enforcement should have done.

EC: What about your next book?

BB: There is one more book coming up in the contract. I plan on that being my last one.

JJ: There will definitely be more stories. I think Dr. Brockton is a great character and I have a wonderful time working with my friend Bill Bass. Maybe I will spin off Miranda, known as Red in this book. Remember in the other books she goes on to become the doctor’s sidekick, his right hand person. She is modeled after an FBI Anthropologist.