Written by Fiona Cummins — When a debut author is an award-winning former showbiz journalist on a national newspaper, you might expect them to write about what they know – vacuous celebrities, star-studded premieres – that kind of thing. But there’s precious little glitz and glamour in this book.
Instead, we have the shadowy Bone Collector, a man who lives quietly with his ailing wife, happy to be off the radar and in the shadowy periphery of things. Better that way, when you have nefarious plans afoot….
Because, believe me, this guy is so creepy that you need to wipe your hands on something disinfectant after meeting him. He is an evil, smelly, psychopath who gets his kicks by studying what people are made of – literally. Skeletons, and the more deformed the better. And how he gets to the bones is something that will set your stomach churning.
DS Etta Fitzroy is a troubled woman. A year ago, a little girl went missing and all they have ever found of little Grace Rodriguez are her fingertips. They’re no nearer to catching the perpetrator now than they were 12 months ago, and that bothers Etta big time. She promised Grace’s mother, Conchita, that she’d bring her daughter home, and Etta hates breaking a promise.
All of which makes her more sensitive to the case of Clara Foyle, who has disappeared from the school playground. Etta is determined to get things right this time, but as the clock ticks and the days pass, there is no sign of Clara. Etta knows she is missing something, but what?
Tipped for great things in the force, our protagonist stalled her career by taking the law into her own hands on a previous case. Thanks to a forgiving boss, she held onto her job but she knows she needs to take care and keep both temper and daft impulses in check if she is to stay on the case this time. The probabilities of her doing both are precisely nil.
Etta is a character you’ll warm to. Yes, she’s another troubled police officer, and there are so many of them in crime fiction, but she has some unusual traits, not least the habit of riding the escalators at any handy tube station when she needs to mull over the finer details of an investigation. She is also broody, and the fact that her husband doesn’t want children while her sister has just had a baby boy makes her turn cases involving children into personal crusades. She eats little, sleeps even less and skates close to the edge of breakdown as the pieces of the puzzle begin to fit. Then another child is taken – a little boy with Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva, otherwise known as Stone Man Syndrome, a rare, debilitating disease in which sufferers grow a second skeleton. Does Etta have the strength left to take on such an adversary as the Bone Collector?
Not a read for the faint-hearted – I actually cried out in horror on a couple of occasions, but also devoured this book, loving its finely honed characterisations and ever-increasing sense of panic. Pre-publicity describes our villain as ‘a psychopath more sinister than Hannibal Lecter’ and they’re not too wide of the mark. He is odious, creepy and without common humanity. In short, a first-class creation. Etta and the families of the missing youngsters are also spot-on in a novel that has already been earmarked for a TV adaptation.
This is a book that will linger with you for quite some time, with an ending that lends itself to a sequel. For me it can’t come fast enough. One little quibble is the strapline on the cover: ‘Finders keepers, losers grievers.’ Surely it should be weepers?
CFL Rating: 5 Stars