her Acknowledgments at the beginning of THE BONE GARDEN, Tess
Gerritsen states that it had been a long and hard year for her as
she labored to bring this book to life. The research that forms the
backdrop of each and every one of her novels is painstaking and
meticulous, and then seamlessly and flawlessly integrated into an
addicting, riveting mystery, all the while making it look easy. It
is almost beyond belief that Gerritsen can pull this off so well
year after year, but she does, continuing to meet and surpass the
quality of her prior efforts.
THE BONE GARDEN begins with a gruesome discovery. Julia
Hamill, newly divorced, is in the midst of beginning a garden at
her new home near Boston when her shovel hits bone --- a skull, to
be exact. Boston medical examiner Maura Isles is able to determine
quickly enough that the skull bears the markings of foul play. The
crime scene, however, contains evidence demonstrating that the evil
deed was performed almost two centuries before, so that the
identity of the perpetrator appears to be lost in the sands of
time. But Hamill remains haunted by the discovery. When a cache of
papers documenting the history of her home comes to light, Hamill
jumps at the chance to read them.
The papers tell the story of Norris Marshall, a first-year student
at Boston Medical College in 1830. Marshall has a talent for
medicine but is of extremely limited financial means; accordingly,
he must supplement his income with work as a
“resurrectionist” --- a grave robber, if you will, who
sells the corpses to medical colleges for teaching purposes. When a
series of gruesome murders occurs, in close proximity to Marshall,
he finds that he is the prime suspect.
His only ally is Rose Connolly, a penniless seamstress who is the
sole support of her orphaned niece. Connolly is a witness to one of
the murders, but her description of the perpetrator --- a
wing-caped monster who looks like the Grim Reaper --- is given
little credence. The murders, however, have an unforeseen
connection to Connolly, one that will put herself and her niece in
terrible danger as she and Marshall are unexpectedly drawn into a
world of wealth and power where no one can be trusted.
While THE BONE GARDEN has a host of interesting
protagonists, good and bad, its most pervasive one is the Boston of
1830. Gerritsen paints a stark and sympathetic picture of the
poverty-stricken Irish immigrants of the era; their living
conditions will have more than one reader, including this one,
counting their many blessings of day-to-day life that are taken for
granted. She also provides an over-the-shoulder look at medical
schooling in that far removed era, one that undoubtedly will
discourage reading at mealtime for a while.
A puzzling mystery, intriguing characters and a fascinating
background combine to make THE BONE
GARDEN Gerritsen’s most compelling work to date.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 7, 2011