Author: Luca Veste
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Watch out, watch out, there’s blurbage about…
“What if the figure that haunted your nightmares as child, the myth of the man in the woods, was real?
He’ll slice your flesh.
Your bones he’ll keep.
Twenty years ago, four teenagers went exploring in the local woods, trying to find to the supposed home of The Bone Keeper. Only three returned.
Now, a woman is found wandering the streets of Liverpool, horrifically injured, claiming to have fled the Bone Keeper. Investigating officer DC Louise Henderson must convince sceptical colleagues that this urban myth might be flesh and blood. But when a body is unearthed in the woodland the woman has fled from, the case takes on a much darker tone.
The disappeared have been found. And their killer is watching every move the police make.”
Now, there’s a premise, huh? The Bone Keeper (TBK) is a very, very effective thriller, bordering on outright horror. It is highly unnerving and downright creepy. What if the nightmares of you childhood, the urban myths we have all believed in at some points in our lives, were real? Or perceived to be real? The unspeakable horrors became true?
“The Bone Keeper’s coming.
The Bone Keeper’s real.
He doesn’t stop.
He doesn’t feel.
He’ll snatch you up.
And make you weep.
He’ll slice your flesh.
Your bones he’ll keep.”
As nursery rhymes go, it’s a doozy, isn’t it? What happened to simpler times? Ring a ring o’ roses? Here we go round the mulberry bush? Sing a song of sixpence? Ok, that last one is about baking blackbirds alive in a pie, so maybe not quite such a good example. But then again, nursery rhymes have always had a slightly dark edge to them. Look at poor old Jack and Jill. They only went up the hill to fetch a pail of water, but poor old Jack ended up with a fractured skull and some quack putting vinegar and brown paper on it. What kind of treatment is that? And we’re supposed to sing this to our children to cheer them up? I suspect that there’s more to this than meets the eye. Maybe Jill was a jealous girl, and shoved poor old Jack down the hill and then tried to cover her tracks? Or maybe Jack tried to push Jill down the well and she defended herself and he got his just desserts? Either way, suspicious shit if you ask me.
Anyway, the point here is that we all have versions of urban myths that we have heard as kids. I grew up next to a large Victorian psychiatric institution (or Asylum, as the hidden plaque next to the door proclaimed). I grew up hearing tales of murderers and “kiddie fiddlers”, as the grown-ups called them, walking the streets around us. Of children going missing and of the ‘patients’ as they were then called, turning up dead in the gravel pits near by (this last one was to keep us from suffering the same fate of course). Eventually I went to work there and of course I discovered that none of this was true, but we created our own monsters from these ill informed and bigoted opinions of the mentally ill. Some of the men that I grew up petrified of turned out to be some of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. Parents, tch.
The Bone Keeper takes the idea of what if these urban myths turned out to be true? Is TBK a supernatural being, haunting and preying upon the people of Liverpool, or is it a copycat, someone taking on the persona, making the myth real? Or is it a combination of the two? Enter our two protagonists: DS Paul Shipley and DC Louise Henderson. They find themselves embroiled (that’s a great word isn’t it? Embroiled. Say it like Kenneth Williams…embrrrrroiled….and it sounds even better, as many words do when said in a Kenneth Williams stylee.), in a series of gruesome discoveries after a woman, beaten up and bloody, turns up in a high street screaming about The Bone Keeper. It would appear on the surface that TBK is indeed a real thing, as the bodies start to pile up and uncomfortable memories and revelations begin to surface for DC Henderson.
Shipley and Henderson themselves were likeable characters. Shipley’s initial scepticism of the Bone Keeper story gradually gives way to a kind of “what if” mentality. He never fully believes it, but the cracks in his resolve begin to appear. Henderson is pretty much the opposite. She wants to believe the stories are true, befriending the only survivor, Caroline, to try to get to the truth, and, as mentioned earlier, uncovering some uncomfortable, personal truths along the way.
The Bone Keeper is set in Veste’s home city of Liverpool. My dad is from Liverpool and although he left as a young boy I still have family there, so I recognised many of the places described here. Melling, where our story starts, was a particular delight as that is where my paternal grandmother was from. I hadn’t been there since I was a teeny, tiny, beardless boy, but I couldn’t help but have a little smile when I read that. But anyway, it was a refreshing change to read a story set away from the usual, familiar London setting.
The Bone Keeper is a great read; best read with the lights down low on a dark and stormy night. Or you could just turn on the garden sprinkler, aim it at your windows, close the curtains and you’ll get pretty much the same effect, I guess. It’s a proper page turner, especially as things start to accelerate towards the conclusion. A conclusion of which, no spoilers, was very satisfying – to me, at least.
In The Bone Keeper, Luca Veste has constructed a tense, chilling and compelling story; utilising childhood fears of abandonment, missing children and dark and scary places, to great effect. A book well worth spending time with.
Highly recommended. 5/5.