There must be healthier ways to vent: A critical review of “The Bone Keeper” (2018)

This blog seems to have been talking about genre a lot lately, last time suggesting that perhaps some sci fi really should be called speculative fiction. Well, “The Bone Keeper,” a novel by police procedural writer Luca Veste, perhaps really should be called a
“psychological thriller.” Long has that term been applied to works of horror that are considered “smarter” than average horror. Unjust, perhaps, but that’s the world we live in.

With “The Bone Keeper”–which takes its title from a Pokemon type, specifically Cubone, and if that doesn’t reveal what a tremendous nerd I am then nothing will–Veste set out fuse the horror and detective genres ala Thomas Harris. The resulting novel isn’t quite either genre, although it is a murder tale that makes an exploration of urban anthropology, abnormal psychology and childhood trauma. So if that can’t be called “psychological thriller,” I don’t know what can, but is it any good?

Liverpudlian cop Louise Henderson is assigned to interview a woman found attacked and wounded at the edge of the woods. The victim claims her assailant was the Bone Keeper, an urban legend whose nursery rhyme has haunted the alleys of Liverpool for at least a generation. Henderson’s partner thinks that the assault is the result of a disturbed individual inspired by the legend. But as the bodies pile up, and Henderson’s own haunted past starts to return to her, she’s not so sure the killings are as simple as that.

Louise Henderson might be a dedicated investigator, I didn’t feel that invested in the investigators or victims of “The Bone Keeper.” No one is particularly well sketched out. Veste was probably concerned that if he sketched too much, some of his twists and turns later in the book would be spoiled.

Without much time spent on characters, one could imagine that the book would get bogged down in a lot of plot and police procedure, but that’s not the case either. The prose is always readable, and the novel flies by without much effort from the reader. In fact, thriller fans will probably piece together a lot of those twists about halfway through the narrative, although there are some interesting ideas at its core.

The novel tries to make some statements about humanity’s capacity for evil, and while it’s always nice to see a nature vs. nurture exploration, its most intriguing idea concerns the identity of the killer. It’s an interesting take on a familiar subject, and while it strains credulity under examination, the book has the decency to end very rapidly after its reveal.

Likewise, despite using the phrase “the smell of rotting meat” as a description every few pages, the book is surprisingly short on gore. Taken with the brief chapters and brisk pace, it should be a quick and entertaining read for thriller vets, even if it’s not too memorable.

It’s probably telling that the book supplies its own reading club questions at the end, although I haven’t quite figured out what it’s telling us. Something about the state of contemporary literature or society as a whole? Either way, sorry, but I’m not reading something with the tagline “don’t go down to the woods today” written on the cover in serial killer font to discuss it thoughtfully with my friends and neighbors. However, I am reading it for dark distraction, and on that front, “The Bone Keeper” does OK.

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