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).