Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Book 48: The Bone Garden

The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen

While Maura Isles makes a short appearance in this novel as the medical examiner on a case, this is actually not part of the Rizzoli/Isles series. Instead it is a stand-alone historical medical thriller. The novel has few scences set in the present day that alternate with chapters set in 1830. Julia Hamill has recently gone through a divorce, and as a project to keep herself busy, she has bought an old house to fix up. While working on her garden, she discovers an old body which the medical examiners declare to be a female murder victim from some time around the 1830s period due to jewelry found with the body.

Julia Hamill is naturally curious about the history of her house, even though it was built around 1880 and a relative of the deceased former owner (who calls himself the family historian) contacts her, and gets her to help him go through the family papers. In its flashbacks to 1830, the novel focuses on Rose Connolly, a poor Irish immigrant, whose sister dies on the maternity ward in the first few chapters, and Norris Marshall, a poor medical student/former farmer that is working his way through school by body snatching, and is soon suspected of a series of murders.

While the pacing was fine, and Gerritsen knows how to drive a plot forward, the whole novel was way too derivative for me: several people are murdered (at first only women) and they all seem to be linked by their knowledge of a mysterious baby and her father's identity. Sounds a bit too much like a certain theory concerning a well-known serial killer called Jack the Ripper - remember the theory that Mary Kelly knew her friend had a relationship with a member of the royal family, and all the other prostitutes had used the name Mary at one time or another, and hence the killer kept getting the wrong victim? Also, there is a character in this book called Jack Burke - he is the grave robber that Norris helps with the hard labor. It would probably be a spoiler to reveal that Burke eventually realizes it's easier to kill people, and take them to the med schools than dig them out of graves except that there is a historical figure William Burke who had a friend William Hare, and they did the exact same thing in Edinburgh, Scotland back in the day. I haven't yet decided whether using the same name was a cute little reference or lazy writing on Gerritsen's part. There's a character that's mentally challenged and lives on the street, and he meets exactly the fate one would expect him to just upon meeting the character.

I like historical fiction, Gerritsen's medical thrillers are entertaining, but the mix of the two is way too derivative. Maybe I've just already heard too much about the difficulty of finding bodies for autopsies when people were still sceptical of science, but I don't feel like this novel taught me anything - usually, it's always nice to learn a few historical trivia facts from historically set novels, but this one had nothing new to offer. That said, predictable as it is, it is still a quick, engaging read, so I wouldn't recommend against it if a person has read the rest of her books.

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