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Mystery fans will get a smile out of “Bones of Betrayal”

The Bookworm

“Bones of Betrayal” by Jefferson Bass, c.2009, William Morrow, $24.99, 357 pages.

“Say cheeeeese!”

As a child, you undoubtedly held “cheese” in your mouth while your mother was on the backside of a camera. Birthdays, picnics, silly backyard days in a blow-up pool, holidays with Grandma and so many “firsts” were immortalized with a pop (remember flash cubes?) or a snap (cameras with a fold-up viewer?) or a whirr and a shake (instant pictures?).

But some pictures, long-held in storage, could deepen a mystery. In the new book “Bones of Betrayal” by Jefferson Bass, Dr. Bill Brockton needs to put everything in focus to solve a murder.

The old man floating in the abandoned swimming pool on the side of a Tennessee hill had been dead long enough to have frozen in the ice. When Brockton and his assistant, Miranda, got the body thawed, they turned it over to the medical examiner, Dr. Edelberto Garcia, for autopsy.

But this was no routine procedure. The dead man’s internal organs were almost liquefied. He had died slowly and painfully after having swallowed a tiny capsule of iridium-192, an extremely deadly pellet of intensely radioactive matter. And Garcia and Miranda had handled the capsule.

Decades before, Oak Ridge, Tenn., was the site where the nuclear bomb was born and Dr. Leonard Novak – the dead man – had been an important scientist at the helm of the Manhattan Project. Highly intelligent yet humble, Novak was the keeper of many secrets. One of them was in the freezer of his apartment, stuffed in an old Prince Albert tobacco can.

It was a film which appeared to be unused, but when Brockton’s experts eked out an image, they found another mystery. Faintly, the photos showed a man with a bullet hole in his head, lying at the bottom of a crater.

With two mysterious deaths on his hands and two horribly injured colleagues in treatment, Brockton learned that Novak was once married to a charming, now-aged lady who still lived nearby. The former Mrs. Novak loved her vodka and she loved to tell stories. She also loved to pretend she was senile – to everyone but Brockton.

And then, beneath murky waters, another body surfaced…

I usually have a pretty strong stomach, but “Bones of Betrayal” was a little gruesome even to me. Luckily, I started it well after dinner, late at night.

On the other hand, maybe that wasn’t such a good idea either. This book kept me reading way into the wee hours.

The author is actually two people: Jon Jefferson is a journalist and documentary filmmaker. Dr. Bill Bass is a widely-known forensic anthropologist and founder of the University of Tennessee’s “Body Farm.” These credentials mean that this book contains real-life details you won’t find in many novels of this type; there are been-there, done-that authentic autopsy and crime-scene scenes that delicate readers will want to avoid but that CSI and true-crime fans will relish.

If you love a mystery and can picture yourself engrossed in a good novel soon, then read this one. “Bones of Betrayal” will make you smile.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,500 books.

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