The Bookworm

“Without Mercy” by Jefferson Bass (Wm. Morrow), 345 pages, $26.99

You ran into someone from your past the other day.

He didn’t recognize you, but you remembered him: same hair, same walk, same irksome laugh and swagger. He breezed right past you and you didn’t say a word, preferring to keep everything behind you. As in the new novel, “Without Mercy” by Jefferson Bass, if only it could stay that way.

The boxes of bones pressed upon him.

Dr. Bill Brockton knew that he’d have to get to them sooner, rather than later. Once he was finished studying them, though, he wasn’t sure what to do with the remains of a long-decimated tribe of Native Americans; the government had laws, but no provisions for that kind of thing.

The bones whispered to him, but Brockton had other issues on his mind. For one, his research assistant, Miranda, was nearly done with her dissertation and would be leaving soon. That would leave a hole in Brockton’s department. Then there was the body up in Cooke County, and the way the victim died gave Brockton the chills.

With a 50-pound logging chain, the naked man had been attached by the neck to a tree in the woods. Someone fed him and kept him alive long enough to make him miserable. Then, the killer smeared bear bait and raw bacon on the victim, set a camera in the branches and left him to die.

It had been a horrible way to go. Brockton knew what criminals were capable of doing, but this murder left him with nightmares and too many questions. It reminded him of how his family had once been targets of serial killer Nick Satterfield, who likewise had a sadistic nasty streak.

But Satterfield was in a maximum-security prison now; some of Brockton’s Tennessee Bureau of Investigation colleagues were helping Brockton identify the victim of a murder that might have been racially motivated, and there was a pile of Native American bones to study. Brockton didn’t have time to overthink — until Satterfield escaped from prison, and he couldn’t think about anything else.

In “Without Mercy,” the 10th installment of the Body Farm series, there are some notable surprises that may rattle fans of Dr. Brockton.

First, Brockton is aging: Bass gives him a lot more aches and insomnia than he’s had in the past, and he seems more impatient than ever. He’s not as self-assured as he was in previous books, either, and he’s increasingly introspective. Most alarming: Brockton is bothered by a crime that he might’ve been more detached from before.

That may be because this book is more gruesome than all the other books with Brockton as a character. There’s more blood and (literally) more guts in this novel, and the thrills have ratcheted up to triple-digits.

Don’t take this book to bed with you; that’s all I’m saying. But if you do, well, good luck sleeping tonight. Your heart will pound, your pulse will race, you’ll see blood behind your eyelids, as “Without Mercy” is a book you’ll run through.

Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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