Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The Bone Readers by Jacob Ross


Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:
“Missa Digga, it look to me like everyone on Camaho searching for somebody.”

Two cold cases twist and turn through the pages of The Bone Readers. Michael ‘Digger’ Digson needs to find the truth behind the death of his mother, killed when he was a young boy. And his boss, Detective Superintendent Chilman, is obsessed with the case of Nathan, a young man who disappeared and whose mother is convinced he was murdered.

Digger can read the story of a death in bones of a corpse – but only at night, when a tight beam of light in the dark shuts out all distractions.

Written by Granadan born Jacob Ross, The Bone Readers is crime fiction set on a tiny, fictional Caribbean island. But any similarity with Death in Paradise begins and ends there. Death in Paradise is a British tourist’s dream of a Caribbean island. This is the Caribbean as experienced by those that have lived there for generations.

Perhaps to avoid such comparisons, Peepal Press have given the book a cover that both verbally and visually references Ian Rankin’s Rebus books. But I am not sure that’s not doing it a disservice of a different sort. If you come to The Bone Readers expecting a classically constructed crime novel you may be disappointed. The Bone Readers does not begin in media res. Nor, for a significant chunk of the book, does it focus on solving a single crime.

Instead, it takes place over several years, tracking Digger’s career from his unconventional recruitment into the police force by the ageing, rum-soaked Chilman, via his training in forensics in London, to the confrontation that may finally solve both mysteries.

The multiple strands of the book all play on themes of sexual violence, sexual exploitation, gender power struggles and corruption. The women in the book are tough, shrewd, emotionally intelligent and they speak their minds. Yet they are trapped by male prejudice, male violence and the male stranglehold on power. Many carry scars from the sexual violence they have experienced.

Digger is trying to break out of that cycle. And the person who may help him do that – the yin to his yang – is Miss Stanislaus. If Digger reads bones, then Miss Stanislaus reads people. Between them they make a formidable, fearless detective pairing.

An unconventional crime novel, and one that exposes the dark underbelly of ‘paradise.’ Shortlisted for the inaugural Jhalak Prize in 2017.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

Avoid If You Dislike: Crime Fiction that doesn’t plunge straight into the action

Perfect Accompaniment: Pepper fish soup and a tot of rum

Genre: Crime Fiction

Available on Amazon

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