About the Book
It’s Christmas 1845 and Haworth is in the grip of a freezing winter. Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë are rather losing interest in detecting until they hear of a shocking discovery: the bones of a child have been found interred within the walls of a local house, Top Withens Hall, home to the scandalous and brutish Bradshaw family.
When the sisters set off to find out more, they are confronted with an increasingly complex and sinister case, which leads them into the dark world of orphanages, and onto the trail of other lost, and likely murdered children. After another local boy goes missing, Charlotte, Emily and Anne vow to find him before it’s too late.
But in order to do so, they must face their most despicable and wicked adversary yet – one that would not hesitate to cause them the gravest of harm…
Format: Hardcover (352 pages) Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 5th November 2020 Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime, Mystery
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As with the first book in the series The Vanished Bride, the prologue to The Diabolical Bones sees Charlotte, now the last surviving member of the Brontë family, looking back on her and her sisters’ lives before they became famous authors. It underlines how tragically short those lives were, Emily having died in 1848 and Anne in 1849. Charlotte herself was to die in 1855.
The book reprises the inventive premise of its predecessor, namely that the Brontë sisters were enterprising ‘detectors’ before they were novelists – with the assistance, from time to time of their brother, Branwell. The Diabolical Bones represents their second case, undertaken in 1846, (before the publication of Wuthering Heights in 1847, the relevance of which will become apparent).
The narrative alternates between the point of view of the three sisters, allowing the reader to appreciate their different strengths when it comes to the art of ‘detecting’. Together they make a formidable team. As Anne observes: “Charlotte, you have a gift for reading people and drawing them out of themselves. Emily, you see connections and clues that a mind inferior to yours would simply not be able to fathom… As for myself, I keep our minds focused on the reasons behind it all: the human reasons… Branwell allows us access into rooms where lone women might not otherwise go, and sometimes provides a fairly adequate distraction. When we are together, we are stronger and we are safer.”
They may be stronger together but are they safer? It soon becomes evident they are hunting an individual so convinced of their own superiority they are prepared to engage the sisters in ‘a battle of wits’, even leaving clues for them to find. Throughout the story there’s a sense of the Gothic from the ‘dense and sorrowful atmosphere’ of the Bradshaw house to local talk of evil stalking the neighbourhood when the moon is dark. The sisters’ investigation even includes a visit to a witch, although this does involve crossing the border from their beloved Yorkshire into Lancashire. “Oh well,” Emily said. “Needs must.”
The battle of wits eventually becomes a battle of a more deadly kind requiring the Brontës to draw on all their courage and ingenuity as they pit themselves against a formidable foe, whilst all the time the clock is ticking until the monster strikes again.
Admirers of the Brontës will enjoy the references to events in their lives and have fun spotting places said to have inspired locations in their novels. Indeed, returning from a visit to the house where the bones were discovered, Emily enthuses, “I had a vision of a story, and I wanted to write it all down before I forgot it. It is a marvellous, ferocious storm of a story. I shall set it at Top Withens…” The author also gives some of the secondary characters names reminiscent of those in the Brontë sisters’ novels. I spotted Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall but there may be more.
Readers who enjoyed the first Brontë mystery will be delighted to see the sisters return for a second foray into ‘detecting’. But you don’t need to be a fan of the Brontës to enjoy this skillfully crafted historical mystery. As Bella Ellis notes in her Acknowledgements, ‘We all need a good story in our lives now, more than ever.’ Amen to that.
I received an advance review copy courtesy of Hodder & Stoughton via NetGalley.
In three words: Engaging, suspenseful, atmospheric
About the Author
Bella Ellis is the Brontë-esque pseudonym of Rowan Coleman, an acclaimed author of numerous novels for adults and children. She first visited the former home of the Brontë sisters when she was ten years old. From the moment she stepped over the threshold she was hooked, and embarked on a lifelong love affair with Charlotte, Emily, and Anne; their life; their literature; and their remarkable legacy. (Photo credit: Goodreads author page)