In a long-running series on forensic investigation at Dr. Bill Brockton’s “Body Farm,” The Breaking Point is a great example of the combined work of Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson, rightly deserving of the devoted fan base they have garnered. The plot is tight and consistent, the protagonist, Dr. Bill Brockton, devoted to both his family and his career as a forensic anthropologist at the University of Tennessee, where groundbreaking research is conducted to benefit local and federal law enforcement agencies at the Body Farm. Professional and private life got tangled together in the prior novel, Brockton’s family still reeling from a near-deadly assault by a serial killer named Satterfield
who is now imprisoned but not quite neutralized in this novel.
Work on a new case for the FBI allows Brockton to put aside his concerns about the intentions of the infamous Satterfield.
The assignment is to identify the badly-burnt remains of pilot Richard Janus, a maverick humanitarian killed in a fiery crash outside San Diego, California, not far from the Mexican border. Best known for flying supplies to international disaster areas, Janus had scheduled a different flight path from the one he followed when his private plane slammed into the side of a mountain. FBI agents escort Brockton to the site, where an intricate process begins to secure the scene, define the damage to the plane, and attempt to identify a body with little left to assemble. The situation is fraught with difficulties, removing the pieces of wreckage from the crash scene, finding sufficient human remains to make any kind of positive identification, the plane and its contents incinerated by the velocity of the crash.
Brockton is back in his element, supported by Special Supervisory Agent Clint “Mac” McCready and his Evidence Response Team as well as San Diego field officer Mile Prescott, even Patrick Maddox of the National Transportation Safety Board. Surrounded by an alphabet soup of agencies, maybe even the DEA, Brockton appreciates the benefits of this much official muscle but grows increasingly concerned that more than one agenda is at play. He minds his business, encouraged by a potentially valuable find, but
he understands that identification of Janus must be conclusive. The case becomes more complicated when an intrusive reporter demands an interview, his helicopter hovering nearby, cameraman rolling, FBI honchos already carping for results.
Returning home, Brockton finds his identification of Janus undermined, his reputation sullied. Discouraged, Brockton wonders if the assignment was as straightforward as it first seemed, riddled with contradictions and unanswered questions, exacerbated by the breaking stories of an aggressive journalist, even suggestions of the involvement of a powerful Mexican drug lord. Brockton’s relationship with the FBI
is at risk, threatened again by Satterfield, and the Body Farm is under attack by a local newswoman trying to hype a sensational story for Sweeps Week. Brockton juggles the various problems on his plate with relative equanimity when yet another issue knocks him to his knees, almost more than he can bear. Balancing the accelerating tension of an investigation riddled with contradictions, the conflicting demands of government agencies, his own staff, the bereaved widow of the pilot, and Brockton’s personal challenges in The Breaking Point, the authors hit a home run with a compelling, literate thriller made more relatable by the humanity and real-life dramas of its characters.