The Bone Keeper by Luca Veste: When an Urban Legend becomes Urban News

The Bone KeeperThe Bone Keeper

by Luca Veste

Paperback, 421 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 2018

Read: April 17 – 19, 2018

One, two, Freddy’s coming for you
Three, four, better lock your door
Five, six, grab your crucifix
Seven, eight, gonna stay up late
Nine, ten, never sleep again

(that’s not from this book, it’s from The Nightmare on Elm Street movies — but you’re so clever, you probably didn’t need me to say that)

I’ve never been a horror movie guy — but I watched a couple of the Elm Street movies as a kid, mostly because my younger sister was obsessed by them. Still, if I sang this song, played a bit of either The Fat Boys or DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s songs about the movies (the musical bit), she would get freaked out. Something about that song immediately tapped into the fear of that movie for her (and made it very easy for her older brother to torment her).

I mention that because the Bone Keeper — an Urban Legend, a bogeyman story — has his own song that kids throughout all of Liverpool know and have known for decades/generations. He’s a supernatural being, living in the woods near/around the city who captures kids and adults, kills them and keeps their bones (hence the name). Clearly just a story to be told around campfires, etc. Right? One more way for older brothers, cousins, etc. to torment their younger friends and relations.

But when an injured, bleeding, and disoriented woman comes stumbling out of the woods singing that song, everyone (police, media, social media users) starts wondering — is the Bone Keeper real after all?

DC Louise Henderson and DS Paul Slater are officially skeptical (okay, more than skeptical) about the Bone Keeper’s involvement in the attack on the woman as they begin their investigation. Finding bodies in the area near where she was probably attacked (and inexplicably escaped), with strange symbols carved into nearby trees only fuels the speculation — and perhaps gets at least one of the detectives thinking that maybe they were too quick to write off the “out of the box” suspect.

As the investigation continues, the options are (at least for the reader, even if Henderson and Slater can’t think this way): there’s a deranged serial killer out there taking advantage of the Bone Keeper legend to mask his crimes; there’s a deranged serial killer out there that thinks he’s a supernatural creature, killing people; or there’s a supernatural being out there killing people. Veste writes this in such a way that every option is a valid conclusion up until the moment he has to make it clear just what’s been going on.

Like the Elm Street movies, The Bone Keeper isn’t my kind of book — but I gave it a shot anyway. I’m so glad I did. It was gripping, it was addictive, there are many other adjectives I could use here, but they don’t seem to be adequate. Let’s say that it’s the kind of book you read in the waiting room of your doctor’s office and hope that he’s running late (I was able to read enough to get to an acceptable stopping point so I didn’t resent him being pretty much on time).

I cannot talk about this book the way I want to — I’d ruin everything. I’ve deleted several sentences (or at least the beginnings of several sentences) already — and I’ve not typed a few others. Take the premise above and imagine the best way to tell that story — that’s precisely what Veste has given us.

The opening chapter is one of the creepiest that I can remember reading — and things only move quickly from there until the action-packed conclusion and almost-as-creepy coda. Haunted characters, haunted families, haunted woods — in at least one sense. The Bone Keeper‘s characters and setting are rife with opportunity and material for Veste to use to tell his story of a literal walking nightmare. A police procedural that brushes up against the horror genre — this is a thriller that’ll stay with you for a while (I’m not sure how long it’ll stay with me, but I can tell you I’m avoiding places rich with trees for the foreseeable future).

—–

4 Stars

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Quotation of the Day

“A man condemning the income tax because of the annoyance it gives him or the expense it puts him to is merely a dog baring its teeth, and he forfeits the privileges of civilized discourse. But it is permissible to criticize it on other and impersonal grounds. A government, like an individual, spends money for any or all of three reasons: because it needs to, because it wants to, or simply because it has it to spend. The last is much the shabbiest. It is arguable, if not manifest, that a substantial proportion of this great spring flood of billions pouring into the Treasury will in effect get spent for that last shabby reason.”

–Nero Wolfe

Scourged by Kevin Hearne: The Iron Druid Chronicles conclude with a bang.

This took me longer to write than I intended. Maybe I should’ve talked about it right after finishing it after all.

ScourgedScourged

by Kevin Hearne
Series: The Iron Druid Chronicles, #9

Hardcover, 265 pg.
Del Rey, 2018
Read: April 4, 2018

So, in a fast 265 pages Kevin Hearne gives us: Ragnarok; a lot of dead vampires; environmental crises; a friendly sloth; puppies; send-offs to many, many characters; shocking deaths; less-than-shocking deaths; surprise non-deaths; and more discussion of poots (elven and jaguar) than one’d expect in this kind of book. The amount that he accomplishes here is really staggering. Some of it, alas, could’ve been deeper — explored more thoroughly — if he hadn’t set out to do so much or if he’d taken more time with some things (and less time with others). Still, this was a heckuva way to end the series.

This is not the book to start this series with, go back and read Hounded if you’re curious (one of the best series kick-offs around), and I’m not going to get into the plot much. It’s Ragnarok. We’ve all known it was coming and now it’s here — ’nuff said. Along those lines, however, Hearne also gets bonus points for including a “where we are in the series” introduction, summarizing the first 8 novels and the short stories/novellas that got us to this point. Again, this should be a requirement for long-running series.

There’s no easy way to say it: there was just too much of Granuaile and Owen. Yes, it’s the best use of Owen since his introduction, don’t get me wrong. But it’s the Iron Druid Chronicles — fine, use the others if you want, but they shouldn’t get equal time to the Iron Druid here in the last book. Especially given the number of things — and scope of action — that had to be accomplished in Atticus’ story, it really should’ve had more room to breathe. That said — for End-of-the-World Showdowns featuring deities from multiple pantheons? This rocked. He wrapped up the story he kicked off in Hammered and Two Ravens and One Crow in a fantastic fashion, full of death, blood and tension. At the same time, he maintained the very idiosyncratic characterizations he’d created for the various gods and goddesses.

Speaking of Two Ravens and One Crow, a small, but fun, point from that comes back in these pages in a way that no one could have expected and added just the right level of fun to the battle.

Hearne did a great job integrating the short stories from Besieged into this book — I didn’t expect to see so much from them carry over to this. It all worked well and set the stage for Hearne to get in to the action of Scourged right away and he took full advantage of that.

There were more than a few things that seemed like they needed better explanations — doesn’t the convenient dog sitter find the way that Atticus spoils his dogs more than a little strange? Given that they’ve known the clock was ticking on Ragnarok, why did Atticus wait until the last second to give Granuaile and Owen their assignments? I mean, it works out well for dramatic purposes, and allows certain plot points to be triggered, but that’s not a good reason for the characters to work that way. At the very least, why weren’t his former apprentice and his former teacher pestering Atticus to lay out his plans long before this? While I eventually saw what Atticus and Hearne were up to, in the moment, a lot of the plan just didn’t make sense. When the world is falling apart, why set someone up for an extended training session (for one example)?

I’m not giving away anything about anyone dying — or living — but we know this is the finale, so we’re seeing the end of stories for these characters. Some good, some shocking, some disappointing, some sad. In no particular order: Laksha got a nice send-off, I really didn’t expect to see her here — and I really appreciated what Hearne did with her. It’s not honestly the ending I’ve had wanted for Atticus — but it’s the kind of ending that Hearne’s been building to for a while now, so it’s fitting. I can appreciate the way that Hearne accomplished his goals, even if I think Atticus deserved better. Owen’s ending was everything you could’ve hoped for. Granuaile’s story was fitting for her — and a good reminder that I stopped liking her a few books ago (seriously, why couldn’t she adopt an attitude similar to Owen or Flidias when it comes to their assignments during the battle?). I would’ve liked to have seen Perun one more time, but he got a good send off in Besieged.

Oberon was sidelined for most of the book — I understand why: Atticus wanted to keep his buddy safe, and Hearne needed to keep things ominous, dramatic and threatening, which is hard to do with everyone’s favorite Irish Wolfhound putting his two cents in (it’s hard enough with Coyote around). Still, we got some good Oberonisms, and he elicited more than one smile from me — and you could argue he saved the day ultimately. If I didn’t know that Hearne was writing one more of Oberon’s Meaty Mysteries, I’d be despondent over not seeing him again.

Scourged wasn’t perfect, but it was very satisfying. If I have to say good-bye to these characters, this is a pretty good way to do it. There was enough excitement, drama, and happenings to fill a couple of books and Hearne got it all into one — no mean feat — and it was a great read. It’s not easy letting go of most of these characters and this world (I mean, apart from re-reads), but I’m glad Hearne got out when he did and the way he wanted to. I’m looking forward to his future projects.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

I’m not going to talk about Scourged by Kevin Hearne today…

ScourgedScourged

by Kevin Hearne
Series: The Iron Druid Chronicles, #9

Hardcover, 265 pg.
Del Rey, 2018

Read: April 4, 2018


I was able to take the evening last night (when this posts, anyway — was just a few minutes ago really) to read the last two-thirds of Scourged while sipping some Tullamore Dew (see yesterday’s rambling). And it was a very satisfying way to spend an evening, no doubt.

My intention was to turn immediately to writing a blog post/review/rave about it, but I think I want to spend some time thinking about it before I start to write. A couple of spoilers about what I’ll end up saying: I really, really, really liked it. It wasn’t as triumphal as a part of me had hoped (“Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once, everybody lives!”), but it wasn’t as grim as I feared (Angel “Not Fade Away”‘s ending). It wasn’t perfect, but it was very satisfying. If I have to say good-bye to these characters, this is the way to do it.

And I’d better shut up before I end up writing a whole post after all.

Tricks for Free by Seanan McGuire

Tricks for FreeTricks for Free

by Seanan McGuire
Series: InCryptid, #7

Mass Market Paperback, 346 pg.
DAW Books, 2018

Read: March 13 – 17, 2018

           There are people who say you never really escape from high school, you just keep finding it in different forms, over and over again, until it finally kills you. Those people are assholes, and should not be allowed in polite company. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong.
           The room seemed even larger without the safety of the elevator behind me. I took a few hesitant steps forward, wishing I had a knife, or better yet, twenty knives, or better yet, twenty knives and a brick of C-4. Plastic explosives are a strange and dangerous security blanket, but they tend to make whatever’s scaring me go away quickly, so I’m in favor.

Whenever possible, frequent/regular readers know, I like to start off these posts with a quotation from the book that sums up the feel, the character, or just makes me smile. I couldn’t decide this time what to go with, so I used both — one from a flashback to high school which is just perfect for everyone who views it as something they survived, and the other that captures Annie’s voice oh-so-well.

Because of [Spoilers Redacted] at the end of Magic for Nothing, Annie’s on the run and on her own. Her family doesn’t know where she is (and hasn’t heard directly from her to keep it that way), her friends know nothing — she doesn’t even have a single Aeslin mouse with her. She could not possibly be more alone in the world. She lucks into a job at Lowryland — an amusement park near DisneyWorld — thanks to running into a teammate from high school who is an executive there. It’s not a glamorous job — she works in knick-knack shops, does clean up, works in food kiosks, etc. for far too little money. But there’s enough people around that she can hide in and almost no spell or anything the Covenant (or anyone else) tries to use to find her will work in that setting.

She’s living in the employee apartments near the park with a couple of cryptids. One is from her old Roller Derby team, who, as luck would have it, started working for Lowryland around the same time. The other roommate is a Pliny’s Gorgon, working as a resident at the Lowryland hospital. Tying this book back to Half-Off Ragnorack is a nice touch (and works out well for other reasons). It’s not the best life, but she’s content enough, she’s safe enough, and there are good people in her life.

Until things start to go wrong at the park, some magic users discover that she’s hiding there (they’re also hiding from the Covenant, so that works out), and people are getting hurt. Making this a question of can Annie stop whatever’s going on at the park without revealing herself to the Covenant and putting her friends in danger?

So there’s the setup — does McGuire pull it off? Yeah, stupid question. She does and she does it well.

First, she nails Annie’s emotional state — probably better than she does Verity’s often. Annie’s in a very vulnerable place — emotionally, psychologically, physically — and you can feel that.

           I went very still as it struck me that, tight now,l was living like a cryptid. l was hiding from people who wanted to do me harm as much because of who 1 was as because of anything I’d done. That was normal — being a Price meant I‘d had a bounty on my head horn the day l was born — but the isolation that came with it was new. The need to view everyone around me as a potential danger, to hide, it was all new, and it burned. There were dragons working all over Lowryland, and while none of them were part of my personal clique of Mean Girls, none of them knew my name either. It wasn’t safe. It might never be safe again, not until we’d found a way to end the danger posed by the Covenant — and that was something we’d been trying to accomplish for generations.

That vulnerability runs throughout this book — even when Annie’s at her most “rah-rah, we can do this, team” she’s very aware that everything is seconds away from disaster. This brings a richness of character to Annie that Alex and Verity don’t have (at least not to the same extent), if you ask me, this brings Annie into Toby Daye territory and elevates this series as a whole because of it.

You may have noticed a repeated use of the word luck above — that’s purposeful. Luck, as a concept, permeates these pages. It’s not a very clear concept to most of the characters, but it gets clarified by [Spoilers Redacted]. As one more magical system in this world that has a variety of them — that overlap, run parallel, and make a general mish-mash of things, it’s great. I think it’s a clever addition and I enjoyed watching it play out here, and anticipate continuing to affect things down the road.

The major flaw comes in how Annie pulls things off — in humble opinion. Throughout the book, there’s a warning given Annie — don’t do X. Beauty isn’t supposed to go in that part of the castle, Egon warns Ray and Venkman against crossing the streams, Annie needs to not do X. You know that all of those things will end up happening before the story’s done. Here’s my problem: it’s too easy for her to do it she makes the choice too quickly — and I’m not sure it was necessary when she did it (it may have been, this may have been a rare-stumble for McGuire where she didn’t make it clear that things were just that dire). I do know that if it’s something Annie felt the need for here, Verity sure should’ve done it back Chaos Choreography. But whatever, I’m over it — I just want to see how it plays out in the future.

One highlight for that I really can’t get into without ruining the first twelve chapters — but there’s a conversation in Chapter 13 catching up every character in Annie’s little circle with who’s who, what’s going on right now and since the last time they talked (hours or months ago), etc. This conversation just might be my favorite thing of March — reading or in Real Life™ — and it’s been a very good month. It’s just a pure joy to read.

By the way, the lack of Aeslin mice absolutely is felt throughout the book — the absence is supposed to make things feel strange, and it does. But never fear — there’s a novella starring the mice from Magic for Nothing at the back of this book. I hope when I have time to read it that it makes up for their absence.

Oh, and there’s a Priscilla Spencer map of Lowryland. Because what isn’t made better by a Priscilla Spencer map?

This is a great addition to a very fun series that adds some good depth to things, sets up our characters for a lot of trouble, and moves the series’ story as a whole down an interesting path. The next book also features Annie, but I’m sure we get back to Alex or Verity soon, and I can’t wait to see how these books without them affect their lives.

—–

4 Stars

Magic For Nothing by Seanan McGuire

Something — time constraints, distractions, deadlines, big shiny things in the corner — kept me from finishing this post last year. I tried every now and then to finish it, but at a certain point my copious notes weren’t enough. Thankfully, reading the next book in the series helped me remember enough that I thought I could finish this post. It’s not everything I wanted it to be, but short of a re-read, nothing was going make it that.

Magic For NothingMagic For Nothing

by Seanan McGuire
Series: InCryptid, #6


Mass Market Paperback, 358 pg.
Daw Books, 2017
Read: Mach 18 – 21, 2017

And you shouldn’t believe all the press about Ouija boards. They can’t be used in an exorcism. Trivial Pursuit can, but that’s another story.

This has nothing to do with the story, I just really liked that line. It comes from one of the best (probably the best, I don’t keep notes on that) openings to an InCryptid novel that McGuire’s done yet.

So after Verity declared war on the Covenant in the closing pages of Chaos Choreography, the Price family has to follow suit and step things up. Their first step? Having Antimony go undercover with the Covenant as a new recruit. This could be a suicide mission but she knows it’s the best shot to understand what’s going on with the Covenant and their plans for the United States.

You could make the claim that Annie’s infiltration of the Covenant is a little too easy — but why? It’s far more interesting for her to have infiltrated the Covenant and get assigned for a probationary task quickly than it would be for there to be a realistic screening and training process — I’m sure McGuire could have pulled it off, because what can’t she write? But this was better. Very quickly the Covenant comes up with an assignment that’ll test her loyalty and maybe score them some dead American monsters. Part of Annie’s cover is that her circus family was wiped out by a bunch of somethings and she wants revenge, the Covenant has wind of a monster or two at a circus in the midwest killing people in the towns it visits. Her assignment: infiltrate the circus, find the responsible creatures (and any others) and call in her handlers to wipe them all out.

So she’s going undercover as part of her undercover assignment. Thankfully, she’s had multiple aliases since she was a wee girl, so she’ll probably be able to keep her names straight.

Once she gets there, she finds more than one person that the Covenant will want killed just for being — so Annie has to figure out how to keep that from happening and keep her cover intact long enough that she can learn something for her family.

I loved the circus atmosphere, I pretty much always do, come to think of it. As is her norm, McGuire’s cast of characters for the Price adventures, is a whole lot of fun. But I think she stepped her game up with this one — even her Covenant characters have a bit more going for them than her normal baddies. But the key to this novel being so entertaining is Annie. We’ve seen her a little bit here and there throughout the series, but never for very long. She’s just great. Her attitude, gumption, grit and talents make for a fun character. The complicated hero-worship/jealousy thing she has going on regarding Verity (not so much with Alex, but a little bit) is a nice realistic and humanizing touch. I’m not going to blather on about her too much, but of the siblings, I think she’s my favorite.

The big climatic battle and the aftermath from that setting up at least the next novel? Thick, rich icing on an already tasty cake.

Oh, the mice. How did I get this far without mentioning the mice? The Aeslin mice are a great source of laughs as well as heart throughout this series — but man, this time Mindy (Annie’s Aeslin companion) really got me. I was moved. I . . . well, yeah,let’s just leave it there. Mindy’s just great.

If there’s one thing in this world that I know I can rely on, it’s the joyous cheering of the Aeslin mice.

Ditto, Annie, ditto. Joyous cheering of Aeslin mice and Seanan McGuire’s writing — wholly reliable. If you haven’t gotten around to picking up this volume of the InCryptid series yet, you need to. It’d make an okay jumping on point, too — but a lot of the little things won’t mean as much to you as they should. Still, I think it’d convince you to go read the earlier books.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs

I had this pretty much ready to go yesterday and the day before that, but I didn’t like what I’d written — it’s not like I disagreed with myself (I’m funny that way), but I just had gone off on a tangent and ended up writing about things I didn’t care that much about, and ignored the things I’d been thinking about since I read the book. This isn’t exactly what I meant to talk about, nor is it as clear as I wanted things to be — but it’s close enough. Hope someone gets something out of it.

Burn BrightBurn Bright

by Patricia Briggs

Series: Alpha and Omega, #5

Hardcover, 308 pg.
Ace, 2018

Read: March 7 – 8, 2018

Anna was her father’s daughter, and her father believed in science and rational thinking. She’d been a werewolf for years now, and she still tended to think about it from a scientific viewpoint, as though lycanthropy were a virus.

Faced with a wall of briar-thorned vines straight out of a Grimms’ fairy tale, she’d never had it brought home so clearly that what she was and what she did was magic. Not Arthur C. Clarke magic, where sufficient understanding could turn it into a new science that could be labeled and understood. But a “there’s another form of power in the universe” magic. Something alien, almost sentient, that ran by its own rules-or none. Real magic, something that could be studied, maybe, but would never rest in neatly explainable categories.

I appreciated this look into Anna’s thinking. It matches up with what we’ve seen of Mercy’s take on magic, but not completely, underscoring the differences in t heir personalities and way of looking at the world.

Burn Bright takes place on the heels of Silence Fallen — Bran’s not back yet and Charles is handling things. At least as much as Leah will let him. We’ve known for quite some time that Bran’s pack is full of misfits, wolves that need extra care and attention that they probably couldn’t get elsewhere — particularly older werewolves, the type who are nearing the point where they can’t keep control. Asil is a prime example of this — but now we learn that Asil actually is an example of an older wolf who’s doing just fine and that there are a half-dozen or so living near the Marrock, but that don’t come into town or have much at all to do with anyone not Bran, Charles or a small number of specific individuals.

Now, while the Marrock is gone, someone is targeting these wolves — and all signs point to someone within the pack. Can Charles, Anna and others protect these pack members from this new threat? Can they identify the traitor in their midst, and will Charles have to kill someone he trusted to preserve the safety of all the wolves?

One thing I noticed last year doing my re-read of the Mercy and Alpha & Omega books was just how comfortable I felt in these books — that holds true here, too. It doesn’t matter about the peril being faced by Charles and Anna (or any of the rest of the pack), reading this book was a nice, relaxing time with old friends. Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers, she’s not, but Briggs sure writes a cozy novel. I cannot put my finger on why — if it’s something in Briggs’ style, her voice, the stories, a combination of the three — but it doesn’t matter. As long as she does that, she’ll have loyal readers.

This was a very talk-y story (and maybe all the Charles and Anna stories skew this way, but this seemed a bit more pronounced). More than once I asked “Do we need to tell this story now? Can’t we come back and chat about this later, you know, after everyone is safe?” Of course, the answer is now, and we need all the talk-y bits to get the understanding and information necessary to defeat the bad guys. Still, the author and readers know this, but Charles, Anna and the rest don’t know that and I wish they displayed a greater sense of urgency.

Most of the talk-y portions were discussing the wildlings being targeted by the mysterious (and well-armed) forces at work here. Which at least pays off in the readers getting to know them — which I greatly appreciate. The other person we get to know better is Leah, Bran’s wife and his wolf’s mate. Between these books and the Mercy novels we’ve gotten to know here a bit, but this novel fills that knowledge out. Between Leah and Chrissy (Adam’s ex- in the Mercy books) Briggs displays a real talent in writing women that you cannot stand or trust, but have enough sympathy for that you can’t just hate. They’re manipulative, conniving, and self-promoting in ways that are clearly meant to set your teeth on edge — but there’s something very vulnerable about them, too.

There’s a reveal or two later in the book that seem inevitable — only because that’s how stories work, even when (especially when?) everything is pointing in one direction, but there’s no way an author of any experience would go with something so obvious. It’s hard to get more specific while not giving away the details — but those reveals ended up leaving me dissatisfied only because I called them so early. It feels like when you’re watching a police procedural and identify the killer when the guest star makes their appearance in the first 10 minutes — sure Castle might be charming, Bones’ intern might be delightfully quirky, or Rizzoli might have some sort of compelling side-story, but the mystery part of the story is a disappointment because how is Morgan Fairchild not going to be the killer?

But the focus of the book is on the relationship between Charles and Anna, their mutual trust, the way they help each other in ways no one else can. That part of the novel is rock solid, and as long as Briggs delivers that, who’s going to complain?

I thoroughly enjoyed this one, don’t misunderstand me. And the more I learn about Bran’s pack in Montana, the more I like it and the more I want to know. Asil, as always, was a joy. But . . . the more I think about Burn Bright the less satisfying it seems, the slighter it feels. I’m glad I read it, I’ll likely gladly read it again — and I look forward to the next adventure with these two. But I think Briggs could’ve — and should’ve — done better.

—–

3.5 Stars