Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Bone Garden

Tess Gerritsen's novels have always been graphic, fast-paced and suspenseful. Whether she wrote about serial killers(The Surgeon) or human trafficking(Vanish), those were trademarks of her novels. Her latest effort, The Bone Garden, is more ambitious than her previous works as it is encompasses two different time periods and tries to provide a link between them. But unfortunately, the larger canvas doesn't make it a more interesting read. It is just as graphic but lacks the suspense and pace of her previous novels.

The story kicks off when a woman Julia finds a skull in the garden of a home she has just bought. While the accessories buried with the body suggest that it was buried in the early seventeenth century, the marks on the skull suggest murder. A relative of the house's previous owner helps Julia figure out who the mysterious woman is. So we learn of Rose Connolly, living in Boston in the 1830s, whose sister has died at childbirth, making her the caregiver for her niece. Rose soon learns that some people are looking for the baby and that its life may be in danger. Meanwhile, she gets a glimpse of the serial killer known as the Westend Reaper and Norris Marshall, a farmer's son who is studying to be a doctor, soon has reason to believe Rose's account.

While the novel starts off in the present and its the discovery of the skull in the present that is the jumping point to the events in the past, it is primarily set in the 1830s. There are regular flash-forwards to the present and the book ends with a weak attempt to link the past and the present but these feel unnecessary and more like gimmicks to entice readers who normally wouldn't pick up a book set in the seventeenth century. Gerritsen might have been better off making the book a period novel since the presence of the present leads us to expect a more substantial link between the past and present than what is presented.

The book succeeds in evoking the time period it is set in. With detailed descriptions of the people and the customs, Gerritsen takes us back in time to that era. While the graphic aspect of her previous novels came from murders and mutilations, here it comes from the alarming medical conditions prevalent during those times. Her depictions of the unhygienic conditions and unsophisticated procedures are pretty descriptive and not for the squeamish. But the whole 'Westend Reaper' track feels unnecessary and added just to keep up Gerritsen's reputation and classify the novel as a thriller.

We are as curious as Julia about the body she has stumbled upon and so we do keep turning the pages. And the identity of the body does come as a surprise. But the rest of the climax is disappointing and feels rushed. There is no clear closure about the Westend Reaper and the deaths of some of the characters feels unnecessary.


At 7:39 AM, Blogger Raju said...

She is among my top favorite authors now.. In fact, I am now reading Sinner. But, IMHO, she is yet to thrill and scare us the same way as The Surgeon. That was awesome.

At 11:32 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

raju, nice to know someone else reads her too. agree with u on 'surgeon'. that and 'apprentice' got me hooked to her books. as always, nothing since then has been upto that standard :)

At 9:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Balaji,
Hope you have read Arnaldur Indridason. A wonderful icelandic author who has written wonderful novels lately translated into english too. He wrote something similar in "Silence of the Graves". Please read his novels when you get time. His narration is terrific!


At 10:13 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

prakash, hadn't heard about him but read up on him on amazon. 'silence of graves' does seem to start the same way. has gotten great reviews too. will remember him when i'm looking for something to read next time :)


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