Wednesday, January 11, 2017

.... but first, the last book from 2016: The Bone Readers, by Jacob Ross

Peepal Tree Press
270 pp


(read in December)

"My gift was reading bones." 

The Bone Readers is,  according to the back cover, the first book  in Ross' 4-book series the Camaho Quartet, so named for the small Caribbean island where this story takes place.   That's a good thing, and I'll be following this series as it's published.  The Bone Readers isn't your average crime novel, nor is the main character your average policeman, both of which are definite plusses in my book.

The star of this show is Michael Digson, aka "Digger," who, as the story opens, finds himself witness to a crime on the streets of San Andrews on the island of Camaho (think Grenada),  a situation that ultimately (and somewhat reluctantly) lands him a job in the small police department.  The biggest incentive he has for joining is that he would have access to information about his mother, who was killed in 1999.   She was a "servant girl" in the home of Digger's father the Police Commissioner, who got her pregnant; leaving Digger to grow up as his "outside" child. DS Chilman,  who'd "recruited" him hopes to put together a younger team, meant to be part of a "separate office from San Andrews Police Central, with its own staff and resources," a
"squad of men who could navigate the forests and valleys of Camaho blindfolded, with guns at their disposal."
As Chilman says, it is "Because is not nice what I see coming in a coupla years time."

Digger is sent to the UK for training in forensics, and on his return he dives right into several cases. Chilman retires, but before doing so, tasks Digger to look into a cold case involving the disappearance of a young man named Nathan, "the ghost that DS Chilman was chasing," who seems to have simply vanished. While Digger's adjusting to his police-department colleagues, Chilman sends in a woman to help him with the case. Enter Miss K. Stanislaus, a rather unorthodox choice since she's not really a police person, but she knows the people and the island inside out.  The novel follows Digger at first on a few official cases, but the story really focuses on Digger's work on the two cases, that of his mother's death and Nathan's disappearance. But there are forces on the island who don't want the truth revealed, and trying to solve these mysteries will not be easy, especially since a) secrets and lies abound and b) what may seem apparent from the outside of things doesn't always reflect the reality of things.

We love the Caribbean islands, and reading this book took me back there for a while.  For example, the description of the little rumshops (sort of ramshackle bars) there was one in particular
"a one-room shed with a single fly-spotted bulb dangling from the centre of the ceiling. The three wooden benches against the wall looked as if they were built by drunks. The wall itself served as a back rest,"
that brought me back to the many "rumshops" we visited on each island -- they are really as he describes them and I could just taste the Puncheon rum we drank in one or two of them  in Port of Spain, Trinidad.  At the same time,  it's not just the physical setting that is impressively and realistically  evoked here -- Ross also takes us behind the scenes, if you will,  to look at how things work politically, socially, and even at the family level on this island, and does so in a way that blends in nicely with Digger's investigations.  One more thing: that the two cold cases are the biggest draw for Digger is interesting, since it allows the author to hone in on a close-up look at victimization, loss, and grief, all of which permeate this story.  Keep your eyes on the women here -- they are the strongest characters in the entire novel.  Major applause.

Moving on to what many readers have had to say about this book, it seems that more than a few had issues with the accents of the characters.  It does take a little time to get into the rhythm of the language Ross uses here, but it soon gets to the point where it just starts being natural. What this novel has that a lot of books coming off the bigger presses at the moment do not is depth, a keen understanding of behavior and human nature, and frankly, an original story/plot that will hold a reader's attention right up until the very end. Then again, I've come to expect very good things from Peepal Tree Press, which specializes in Caribbean fiction as well as "Black British fiction," as noted on the back cover.  There is no question -- I'll be adding each book in this series to my library as it's published.  Definitely a book I can recommend, especially for people looking for something completely different.


  1. This definitely sounds different, and I like the setting. I will put this on my list.

    1. If it wasn't so far away from our families, we'd move to the Caribbean in a heartbeat. I love the literature -- this one is so refreshingly different for a modern crime novel.


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