Book Review: The Bones of You by Debbie Howells

The Bones of YouThe Bones of You
Debbie Howells
Kensington Books, July 2015
ISBN 978-1-61773-766-4

From the publisher—

“I have a gardener’s inherent belief in the natural order of things.  Soft‑petalled flowers that go to seed.  The resolute passage of the seasons.  Swallows that fly thousands of miles to follow the eternal summer.

Children who don’t die before their parents.”

When Kate receives a phone call with news that Rosie Anderson is missing, she’s stunned and disturbed. Rosie is eighteen, the same age as Kate’s daughter, and a beautiful, quiet, and kind young woman. Though the locals are optimistic—girls like Rosie don’t get into real trouble—Kate’s sense of foreboding is confirmed when Rosie is found fatally beaten and stabbed.

Who would kill the perfect daughter, from the perfect family? Yet the more Kate entwines herself with the Andersons—graceful mother Jo, renowned journalist father Neal, watchful younger sister Delphine—the more she is convinced that not everything is as it seems. Anonymous notes arrive, urging Kate to unravel the tangled threads of Rosie’s life and death, though she has no idea where they will lead.

The disappearance and then death of a young girl is, on the surface, the story being told in The Bones of You but the heart of the tale is really a study of what can go so horribly wrong in a severely dysfunctional family and how the things that sometimes go on within such a family can have repercussions beyond any an outsider might expect.

Ms. Howells offers multiple voices to give the reader individual perspectives and Rosie’s narration is most poignant. From the beginning, we know that Rosie is a girl with a great deal of unhappiness in her short life but, as she tells her story, we see that she really had little sunshine and, in fact, learned early on how to shield herself from so much betrayal. Could she have ultimately found joy? Perhaps she could have.

The narrator I had less connection with was Kate, a woman who only knew Rosie marginally and, yet, seems to be consumed with what happened to the girl and the need to find out who killed her. When a terrible crime like this happens, those of us looking on from a distance quite naturally feel great compassion for the victim and those who love her as well as a frisson of guilty relief that it’s not happening to us. Even so, we don’t usually have the urge to insert ourselves into the middle of things but that is precisely what Kate does. Is she overwhelmed because she has a daughter the same age? What drives Kate to become so intimately involved?

It’s those niggling doubts about Kate that give The Bones of You an element of surprise you don’t often see in this kind of crime fiction. It would have been effective to tell the story primarily from Rosie’s point of view but Kate is the rest of us in many ways. The effect this crime and what she eventually learns about the family have on her is every bit as important. Ms. Howells has an almost lyrical way with words and most definitely has a story to tell, one that will resonate with me for quite some time to come.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2015.

An Interview with Debbie Howells

1. When did you start writing?
I began writing in earnest about five years ago, women’s fiction which was what I liked to read. But I also wanted to write books that addressed more serious real-life issues as well. I think with Wildflowers I achieved that. It’s had some wonderful reviews on Amazon, but though 6 agents asked to read the full manuscript, no-one actually took me on.

2. The Bones of You is a change of genre. How did you come to write it?

I’d put everything I had into Wildflowers and it came so close, but not close enough. I knew then I had to write something different. Everyone says, write about what you know about. I think that’s true, but I think also, you have to appeal to the market. That said, I don’t think it’s possible to write without your heart one hundred per cent in it.

3. Were you surprised with the reaction you got from agents and publishers?

Completely blown away! It was beyond my wildest dreams. There are phone calls and emails from that time that I will never, ever forget. When you’ve worked so hard for so long, battled rejection but kept going anyway, to reach the point where I’m being published is something I’m so excited about – and enormously grateful for.

4. What advice do you have for other writers?

There are so many brilliant, unpublished writers out there. Finding an agent and a publisher mean you have to write a good book, but it takes luck, too – in spadefuls – to hit the right person with the right idea when the market’s right… It’s also a massively subjective industry. What one person loves, another wouldn’t give the time of day to. And no-one can predict tomorrow’s bestsellers.

If you can’t find an agent to take you on, consider self-publishing. A number of authors have had huge success this way and in any case, you learn from it. Then keep writing – the next book, the one after. If you don’t, you’ll never know…

5. Have you written your next book?

I finished it just before Christmas. It’s another psychological thriller about not just what we hide from other people, but from ourselves, too. It’s about a washed-up lawyer and a woman he used to love, who’s suspected of a murder. He’s determined to prove her innocence but an overdose has left her in a coma. As well as a thriller, it’s also a love story.



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