A Rumor of Bones

by Beverly Connor

Sunday, December 9, 2001

Featured image for A Rumor of Bones

[these comments are taken from a mailing list discussion and therefore contain spoilers]

[about chapter heading quotes and first impressions]

I’ll have to confess that I read the first half of this book yesterday without even noticing the quotes! I probably only read quotes like these about half the time and rarely find that they add much to a book. I find they take me out of one mode of reading and into another and somehow make a book seem less smooth.

I haven’t worked out the significance of the title yet. I was thinking that it may have something to do with the fact that they seem to be trying to keep the discovery of the more recent skeleton in Burial 23 quiet but news is seeping out. Perhaps it will make more sense by the end of the book.

In reference to the links about bones posted over the weekend I didn’t find anything absurd in what Lindsay was deducing from the bones but my knowledge of this type of thing is entirely based on TV archaeology anyway.

I’m confused as to why this could be seen as a Halloween type of book? Lindsay seeing ghosts is the only thing I can think of that connects to Halloween but I think it’s clear that she’s just imagining how things were rather than actually seeing things.

I found the beginning of this book really slow and skimmed the first couple of chapters until I felt the narrative had picked up a bit. By the halfway point though I’d sorted out the characters a bit more and I could have kept on reading it quite happily.

[about lindsay’s imagination and other characters]

To me the things Lindsay dreams up from her deductions are definitely just imagination grafted onto facts and not woo-woo at all. I like this bit of Lindsay a lot though there was one bit where she went on and on til my eyes glazed over.

My problem with Lindsay is that she’s not been shown to be bad at anythng but nobody hates her for it. If somebody would just have a go at her and raise the emotions a little then the book would be more interesting. Since the book is written in the third person we don’t see any of Lindsay’s own self doubts (presuming she has some) so I really think somebody else ought to point her flaws out to us.

The only character I can think of that we’ve seen a negative side to so far is Ned. Everybody is so fair and friendly and good that they only seem to have one dimension which makes them pretty uninteresting people.

I think Kay Scarpetta is a much more developed character despite the problems of the later books in that series, but then I’ve read much more than half a book of Scarpetta. I feel a bit hasty putting Lindsay down when I’ve only just met her. I haven’t read any of Kathy Reichs’ books yet though I’ve had Deja Dead on Mount TBR for yonks.

[about all the plotlines]

I think that this book has too many story lines going on for any of them to be that captivating. (A) There’s the story of the little girls bones which I think is the most interesting part as it combines archaelogical insights with fairly current events. I thought that this was the main storyline with the photographer as the major suspect at the half way point. (B) Then there’s the woman from Burial 23 with her gold filling and the horse burial too. Did we figure out that the woman and the horse were related? (I’ve only read half the book and I’ve already got a case of CRS.) (C) There’s also the dead body that’s turned up in the river, Seymour I think his name was.

On top of that there’s (D) a mystery of why bad things are happening at the dig camp, which is probably down to Ned, but possibly connected to any of the other storylines. Then as well as all this there’s (E) the native American burials that the dig is all about to start with. That’s before we even start on (F) the Mills&Boon/Harlequin stuff.

I’m all for a decent subplot, several decent subplots, or even a couple of equally weighted plots but I’m getting confused with this book because it doesn’t seem to have any focus. I’ve no idea which of A-F I’m supposed to concentrate on.

Both A and B are interesting storylines worthy of a book (though not necessarily this book). C I presume must be related to one of A or B. D could be related to A, B or C or not related at all. E would be interesting background if the foreground wasn’t so cluttered. F is something I don’t really have a problem with but I’d rather had been more realistic, and again it just feels like clutter rather than characterisation.

Anyway, with all these letters I feel I’m back trying to solve equations and the more I think about the plot of the first half of this book the more confused I’m making myself! I’ll go and graph the square root of AB against the natural log of D/F and see if the plot makes any more sense that way…

[was lindsay right to investigate?]

I think this is where the book falls down really. Lindsay’s a bone expert and what she does is interesting and makes for part of a good story but she’s just a helper in this investigation. She’s not really got any reason to go off investigating on her own and what investigating she does isn’t very interesting. Threats to her safety are a good, if stereotypical, way to give her a reason to investigate but they don’t work here because she’s just too damn perfect and nice a person to take them seriously.

[about the tylers and resolutions]

I was pretty confused by the cast of characters in this book and didn’t really have any concept of the Tylers as a family until the very end of the book when they had the picnic. I remember Isabel from somewhere near the beginning of the book when she was introduced as one of the dead girls’ grandmother but the concept of them as the local big family didn’t come across to me. In particular I don’t recall meeting the magician guy until the very end which seemed like a bit of a cheat to me. I suspect he was introduced but that I just didn’t notice it enough to remember him. Since two of the main plotlines went back to this family I think the book would have been better if there had been more development of the family.

I thought the painting bit was probably the best thing in the book. It used Lindsay’s expert knowledge of bones to deduce something from clues in plain sight. It is quite Sherlockian but I thought it fitted in well here. Sherlock would suddenly, from out of nowhere, have told us that he’d once written a monograph on the brow ridges of mirror twins or something like that with a strong odour of deus ex machina about it whereas the setup was all there for Lindsay to make accurate observations. I liked the way she confronted Isabel with the facts of how the twin sister died to show that it was unlikely to have been the husband who killed her.

If I’d been trying to solve the “Burial 23” mystery then the paucity of suspects for a 60 year old murder would probably have made the solution obvious with bright beacons burning around the only character old enough to have played a part in it. That Connor could mix up this interesting but not particularly taxing mystery (from the reader’s point of view) is one advantage of the lack of focus on any one storyline in this book.

[general points]

I didn’t really notice the shortcomings of the dialogue until I’d had them pointed out to me, I just had a general feeling that nothing rang true. I don’t demand absolute realism of my mysteries but I like to feel that I understand why the characters act as they do and I never quite sussed out what was going on here.

I thought that there weren’t enough highs and lows in the plot. Every chapter had some kind of big discovery and rather than making the plot exciting it just made it tedious. I would rather have had the author concentrate on the mystery of the young girls more and have had Lindsay do more investigating. I think “Burial 23” was the best plotline in the book though and I did like its conclusion but it could’ve been tied into the little girls deaths much better. I’d like to have seen more complexity in how Isabel Tyler’s past crime came to influence her family’s lives and gave birth to the criminal intents of her descendants who murdered the girls. Not that I want everything all tied up neatly, just that I thought there was a much better story lurking within this book than the one that was told.

I’d rather the whole romance thread had been junked by an editor. It just took away from the other plotlines and didn’t add anything to it. The characters were all acting like thirteen year olds in search of nothing more than a snog. The rest of the book was distinctly unrealistic but this was the bit that really killed it for me. I’d rather Lindsay had slept her way through the camp than demurely deliberated over each man’s charms.

CRS has kicked in and I can’t remember a chase scene. The bit that seems very formulaic to me was when Patrick had kidnapped Lindsay and I was wondering which of her two suitors would turn up to rescue her.

The resolution of “Burial 23” was quite decent, the resolution of the little girls deaths wasn’t much good at all. I might read a book further into the series if someone whose reading tastes I trust tells me that the writing and the plot have improved but otherwise I’m unlikely to bother. I thought the idea of this book was good but it just didn’t deliver for me.