Tess Gerritsen – The Bone Garden

Tbguk Tess Gerritsen has written romance novels, medical thrillers and two series of other crime thrillers: the Jane Rizzoli and the Maura Isles series.  On her site, The Bone Garden is listed in the category of “medical thrillers” even though Maura Isles provides a link to her most recent work.  But it’s more of a link to her current readership as Gerritsen spreads her wings and takes her crime writing into the historical, in this case the 1800s.  Her web page to introduce The Bone Garden makes it clear: it’s Boston in 1830.  And this is where the main story lies.  A shorter contemporary story is also woven in to the novel, but fans of the Maura Isles series should take note: Isles makes a mere cameo appearance at the start, and this novel is really something else entirely.

In a nutshell:

Following her divorce, Julia Hamill moves into a dilapidated wreck of a house and starts work on the garden, where she discovers a body.  The body proves to be quite old and Julia is soon working with an aged relative of the previous owner of her house, going through masses of historical papers as they try to uncover whose body it may be.

Through the main historical story, we learn of the fate of one seventeen year old Rose Connolly after the death in childbirth of her sister Aurnia, with Rose taking full responsibility for her newborn niece Meggie.  Rose gets caught up with members of the medical profession, just at the time when a West End Reaper starts a series of savage killings and she is witness to one of the murders.  She also becomes aware that Meggie is being sought; by whom and for what reason she has no idea.

The questions are: how are the stories linked and whose body was found in the garden?  Will Rose survive, given all that she is up against, including a life in abject poverty, and how?

Tbgus Gerritsen’s novel was inspired by Oliver Wendell Holmes, the doctor who found a solution to puerperal (childbed) fever and she takes this real historical character into her tale of fiction, as he undergoes his training in Boston.  Indeed, the novel pays homage to him.

Not only is it a tale of crime and mystery, but it is also a tale of love and commitment, passion even.  And, like Gerritsen’s other thrillers, this one has a pace of its own.  Neither does Gerritsen succumb to clichéd characters; perceptions are challenged and revisited in The Bone Garden.  Settings take the reader from the lives and homes of the privileged, educated and wealthy to those who fight to get off the street or merely survive on it.

It’s a risk to do something different when you have an established readership and series, and in Gerritsen’s case it’s two series.  In spreading her wings here, Gerritsen has also upped her game.  I hope Gerritsen’s existing readership will spread its wings as the author has done and embrace the historical.  If new to Gerritsen, you can’t go wrong here and then I suspect you’ll be seeking her backlist.

The Bone Garden was published in the US by Ballantine Books last September and is published by Bantam Press in the UK on 14 January.

Tess Gerritsen is touring the UK in January (15-22), covering Milton Keynes, Peterborough, Lincoln, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Oxford.  She is also back in the UK in July as a special guest at the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate.

3 thoughts on “Tess Gerritsen – The Bone Garden

  1. Kerrie Smith

    I read THE BONE GARDEN recently. Here are some of the comments I recorded.
    This is the eleventh of Gerritsen’s novels. It is almost a stand-alone. Maura Isles, one of the the pair of usual protagonists in Gerritsen novels, makes only two cameo appearances at the beginning to give her verdict on the skeleton which has become the focus of excavation by the medical examiner’s office. It almost feels like Isles is giving Gerritsen permission to branch out without her.
    Writing “cold case” books seem to have become popular with crime writers in the last year or two. For many it has been in the form of a police procedural, cold cases unearthed as former detectives with time on their hands take advantage of technical advances like DNA and sophisticated finger printing software. Some have been cases of bodies buried for a decade or two. In THE BONE GARDEN Gerritsen was more ambitious, launching into a cold case almost two centuries old. Her images of Boston in the 1830s create for us an understanding of a time when medicine was in its infancy, anatomy a new science, and the world very different to the one we live in today.
    On the ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS page, Gerritsen says she has had a long hard year labouring to bring THE BONE GARDEN to life. To be honest I don’t think she has quite mastered the technique of interweaving of the present day with the historical. Just so that the reader doesn’t get lost she alerts us to a time change with chapter headings that say “1830” or “The present”. In order to bring it off she has had to introduce elements of coincidence, dreams that connect Julia to events in the past, voices from the past clamouring to be heard, and more than one love story. I don’t think Gerritsen fans will be disappointed though. The writing is clever and tidy, there is more than one mystery to be solved, and despite the book’s length, it flies quickly.

  2. Maxine

    I used to be a fan of T G’s books but I found the last couple of hers I read to be so casually written that I am not keen to read another. I am also not as keen on historical mysteries as contemporary problems. I wonder, is TG doing a “Patricia Cornwell” here, I am thinking of that book PC wrote on the “real” identity of Jack the Ripper. (Apparently, it wasn’t convincing.)

  3. crimeficreader

    Thanks for your comments Kerrie, much appreciated.
    Maxine,
    I don’t think that Gerritsen is doing a “Cornwell” here. Cornwell took on a cause, but Gerritsen merely pays homage to an historical doctor of note in a piece of fiction for which that doctor’s story and history inspired her. It’s a pacey read with good setting, and well worth a second look, if you’ve been put off before now.
    It is not a Cornwell diversion!

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