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?
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.