Little Bones by Sam Blake | Review

In her police procedural Little Bones Sam Blake sets the action in and around Dun Laoghaire and Dalkey, County Dublin. More mystery than crime thriller, this is the story of three generations of Grant family women. It hinges on the discovery of a wedding dress with a secret in the hem. The novel is in four parts, each with a sewing-related theme.

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Part 1 — Coming Apart at the Seams — sets the scene.  Garda Cathy Connolly is investigating what appears to be a routine break in when she discovers the bones of a baby in the hem of a wedding dress. The dress belongs to a florist and artist, Zoe Grant.

Zoe’s grandmother, businesswoman Lavinia Grant gave her the dress. But where did Lavinia it? And why did the burglar slash the dress, revealing the hidden bones? Was the dress Lavinia’s? Was it Zoe’s mother’s? Who is the baby? When and how did the baby die?

There’s a mystery about Zoe’s family.  She doesn’t know where her mother is and her relationship with her grandmother is difficult. There’s also a question about Lavinia’s relationship with the spiky Trish O’Sullivan.

Cathy is unexpectedly pregnant and unsure how she feels about it. As she investigates, she struggles with morning sickness especially when she meets musty scents from the past.

Cast of characters

Peopling the 70 pages of Part One are a plethora of other characters. Magazine editor Steve Maguire, is a young man known to both Cathy and Zoe. A friend of Cathy’s brother, could Steve be the father of her baby? Angel Hierra is a mysterious murderer on the run from the FBI. Hierra wears another man’s overcoat — a detail that helps the reader recognise him when he pops up again later in the story. Then there is the elderly “Mary” discovered by occupational therapist Ethel and her psychiatrist husband Tony Cox. What are the connections between these characters? And what has Zoe’s break in got to do with the murder of her famous grandmother?

This sets the scene for Part Two, Adjusting the Tension where the action trundles along for another 120 pages. Blake slowly reveals details and paves the way for the cast to come together in Part Three, Tailor’s Tacks.

There are a lot of characters in this novel and some of the plot lines are perhaps more convoluted than they need to be. At the heart of Little Bones Sam Blake has a good mystery but a bit more depth to the main characters  and a bit more insight into their troubled relationships would make for a more satisfying read. Cathy is the strongest character which bodes well for her appearance in future titles.

The final part — Binding the Edges — reveals shocking secrets from the past. We finally learn the mystery of the baby bones. But it’s not quite all over. Before she puts down her pen on the final page of Little Bones Sam Blake delivers an Eastenders style shock finish that nicely sets up the next start of a new adventure for Garda Cathy.

Little Bones by Sam Blake is published by Twenty7 Books (2016).

The Malice of Waves | An absorbing Scottish crime novel by Mark Douglas-Home

If you enjoy a Scottish crime novel and haven’t come across Mark Douglas-Home, you’re in for a treat. Set on a fictional island in the Outer Hebrides, The Malice of Waves is about a cold case murder investigation.

The victim is Max Wheeler.  Max disappeared from Priest’s Island five years previously.  The 14-year old was camping on the island when he vanished. He is presumed murdered but his body has never been found. Consequently, every year, on the anniversary of the disappearance, Max’s father hires investigators to find out what happened.

David Wheeler is unpopular. The islanders dislike him because he is an outsider. He makes them feel like they are under suspicion and they resent that he purchased land in their community.

Unwelcome stranger

Dr Cal McGill is engaged by Wheeler because of his specialist knowledge of tides, winds and currents. Cal’s job is to try to find Max’s body by studying the coastline and sea.

Cal’s enquiries soon create tension. The local coffee shop becomes the focal point of the islanders’ resentment.

Bella and her niece Caitriona run the Deep Blue cafe. The business belongs to Caitriona since her parents died. Bella took over the running of the cafe and raised her niece and she is keen to see Caitriona settle down. Consequently, she helps Caitrona’s friend Ewan to make some additional cash hoping that it will set them up for the future. But Bella’s plans have unexpected consequences.

Meanwhile, Cal is an unwelcome stranger caught between Max’s father and the local community. To make matters even more tense, David Wheeler has a complicated relationship with his daughters Hannah and Chloe and a broken relationship with a third daughter, Joss.

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As Cal’s investigation deepens, the island community’s secrets begin to unwind. But this is a story where plot and character are almost secondary to the setting itself. Douglas-Home’s writing brings the remote landscape to life in a strongly visual way that captures the changing moods of the ocean and landscape. If you love Scotland and enjoy a good Scottish crime novel, this an absorbing read. Highly recommended.

The Malice of Waves is the third title in the Sea Investigator series by Douglas-Home. The earlier titles in the series are The Sea Detective and The Woman Who Walked Into The Sea.

The Malice of Waves by Mark Douglas-Home is published by Penguin. [Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via Netgalley]