Gather The Bones, by Alison Stuart

>> Monday, January 21, 2013

TITLE: Gather The Bones
AUTHOR: Alison Stuart

PAGES: 320
PUBLISHER: Lyrical Press

SETTING: 1920s England
TYPE: Paranormal romance (ghosts)

War leaves no one untouched

The horrors of the Great War are not the only ghosts that haunt Helen Morrow and her late husband's somewhat reclusive cousin, Paul. Unquiet spirits from another time and another conflict touch them.

A coded diary gives them clues to the mysterious disappearance of Paul's great-grandmother in 1812, and the desperate voice of a young woman reaches out to them from the pages. Together Helen and Paul must search for answers, not only for the old mystery, but also the circumstances surrounding the death of Helen's husband at Passchandaele in 1917.

As the mysteries entwine, their relationship is bound by the search for truth, in the present and the past.

It's a few years after the end of WWI, and Helen Morrow has just arrived in England from her native Australia. She and her daughter are to spend some time with her late husband's aristocratic family. Charlie left to join his cousin, Paul, in his regiment when Helen was in the very early stages of her pregnancy, and died before he could see her. Since little Alice will now never know her father, Helen would like her to know her father's family.
After Charlie's death, the title and estate passed to Paul, who's now struggling both with recovering from injuries sustained in the same charge that killed Charlie and with the new responsibilities he's inherited. There's not enough money to keep the house going for very long, and the fact that he's seriously considering selling it does not help his difficult relationship with his aunt Evelyn, Charlie's mother.

For Paul, the sequels from the war are not just physical, but mental, and he's become reclusive. Helen and Alice's arrival start bringing him back to life, and he and Helen soon develop a connection. But that's not all that's going on. Paul and Helen are not just haunted by their memories, but by the Hall's ghosts. Paul has long been aware of them, but with Helen's arrival, their actions become more urgent and purposeful. It becomes clear that there's a secret from 100 years earlier, and Helen and Paul join forces to discover it.

The concept of this book is right up my street. The period is underused and one I find fascinating, and Stuart does make the time and place come alive. I also love plots where the main characters work together to solve a mystery from the past, especially if there are some creepy ghosts involved (I blame this on my love for Barbara Michaels and my obsession with finding more books like hers, now that she hasn't written one for years). I even liked the characters and was interested in their issues.

Other than a particular development near the end, where the romance goes in a tedious and pointless direction right before the HEA (they act like idiots for a little while, and then change their minds with no angst or consequences), there's really nothing wrong with the book. I liked it well enough. It's just that it's all a bit... thin, I guess. The romance, the old family mystery, the mystery of how exactly Charlie died, it's all explored in a way that felt somewhat shallow to me. There's quite a lot here that should have been very traumatic, but it never felt that way. We were just skimming over the surface.

I felt oddly disengaged from it all. Not quite bored, but close. It was the sort of book where I didn't feel any urgency to pick it up when I'd put it down, but was happy enough to keep reading. It was the emotional connection that I missed.



Darlynne,  31 January 2013 at 15:45  

I love this period of time, too, and it isn't done enough. WWI was devastating in a way they didn't truly understand, with its horrific losses and brutality, right on the heels of recognizing that war isn't the glorious thing everyone expected and assumed it to be. I've often thought WWI is that generation's Vietnam.

Have you read Rennie Airth's River of Darkness? It's a brilliant crime novel and glimpse into country life after the war.

Also, I highly recommend Hand in Glove by Robert Goddard. The setting is after the Spanish Civil War and involves the works of a poet who died in the fighting. As I think about it (and apologies if we've discussed him before), you might be interested in several of his books because of how the past always affects the present. This link provides some great overviews of Goddard's books, as well as his own comments about each one:

Rosario 1 February 2013 at 07:05  

It seems there's more and more books coming out set in that period, maybe because as time passes, it becomes more appropriate as an historical setting. My favourite is still Sayers, though!

Thanks for those recs, I'd never heard of either. The Goddard books sound especially good, exactly my sort of thing. My library seems to have quite a few. Should I start with Hand in Glove, then? I don't want to make the same mistake I made with Peter Robinson (I went straight to book 1, and it was so dated, and in such a horrible way, that it has put me off trying him again at all!)

Darlynne,  1 February 2013 at 15:03  

It doesn't really matter which Goddard you start with because his are non-series (although, selfishly, I do want you to like his books). I mentioned Hand in Glove because of its time frame, subject and because it's very good, but my favorite is In Pale Battalions, followed closely by Past Caring or Painting the Darkness. Oh, wait, Into the Blue was brilliant. *sigh*

I don't believe you'll feel the same disconnect with his books as you did with Robinson's. Goddard's are meant to be evocative of the period in which they take place, which is different, I think, than feeling dated (if that makes any sense?).

Also, I still strongly encourage you to read Rennie Airth's book, and while we're at it, I'll give a big thumbs up for Peter Dickinson's Some Deaths Before Dying. That book is post-WWII, but its "long-buried secret" might just fit what you're looking for.

Rosario 2 February 2013 at 09:00  

Thanks, Darlynne! My library has In Pale Battalions, will pick it up when I go later today. These all sound really good!

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