The story opens in the past, when an unnamed narrator is 11. She, her 14-year-old brother Matty, and two friends dare to enter a dark tunnel in the Dibbinsdale Nature Reserve, near where they live. They enter the slimy, dirty space one after the other. Four go in, but only three come out again.
When it’s her turn and she’s all alone in the dark she hears a tune, one which has been a childhood nightmare for many kids over many years – The Bone Keeper’s coming, The Bone Keeper’s real…
Matty follows his sister into the tunnel, but he never comes out.
Fast forward to the present day and DC Louise Henderson of the Merseyside Police arrives with her partner DS Paul Shipley at the scene of an apparent domestic in Melling. She finds a woman who’s been assaulted – badly beaten and cut up. The woman, Caroline Rickards, isn’t making a lot of sense. She says she’s walked here from the nearby woods and it was The Bone Keeper who attacked her. Rickards was singing his song when she arrived in the residential street and is convinced that the Bone Keeper is still coming for her.
Initially, Shipley is highly sceptical. The Bone Keeper is just an urban legend. But Henderson is a local and more open-minded. When she was growing up The Bone Keeper was real as far as she and her friends were concerned. So she persuades Shipley to examine the woods where Rickards was supposed to have come from. What they find shocks them to the core – it’s a graveyard, with many bodies buried. On the surrounding trees are marks, indicating the Bone Keeper has been taking people for years.
Henderson and Shipley’s investigations lead them to Nathan Coldfield, a loner who comes and goes. His mother has no idea where he is or where he’s been for months. When the police search Coldfield’s room they find a link to the Bone Keeper. Shipley is beginning to think there’s more to the myth than he initially thought. And there’s Rickards herself, as Henderson digs into her backstory she finds… nothing. She’s a blank slate who nobody knows and seems to have no history. Where has she been all these years and why did the Bone Keeper select her, then allow her to escape? And what is the connection between the Bone Keeper and Henderson herself? What is she keeping from her colleagues?
In a serial killer novel it’s easy for the author to fabricate a plot which is over the top in terms of both drama and gore. Luca Veste has employed tension and dark themes well in his police procedurals featuring DI Murphy and DS Rossi. In The Bone Keeper, he has taken a step towards horror, staying within thriller territory and generating a fast moving, gripping story which steadily unfolds and keeps you guessing all the way through to the end. It’s also chilling, spooky and engaging. In fact, the background narrative of is so compelling it feels like the urban myth is based on actual events.
Henderson is a great character. Initially difficult to like, her difficult background which affects her behaviour today. She’s a loner, married to her job and has a tendency towards losing her temper. Henderson is also unorthodox and is the perfect foil to her more straight laced partner, Shipley. This means the case gets pursued where the more conventional cop would have played by the rules and lost the thread. There’s also a tension between Henderson and Shipley that neither can quite act on, a bit of a love/hate relationship that can’t be easily explained.
The other excellent feature of The Bone Keeper is the underbelly of Liverpool. Luca Veste is well known for his ‘Scouse noir’ and this novel adds to that reputation. With compelling police procedural elements, this is a thriller with a sharp edge. It’s one to read with the lights on.
Simon & Schuster
CFL Rating: 5 Stars