Bone by Bone by Carol O’Connell

March 21, 2014

bone by bone Plot summary (from the publisher): In the northern California town of Coventry, two teenage brothers go into the woods one day, but only one comes back. No one knows what happened to the younger brother, Josh, until twenty years later, when the older brother, Oren, now an ex-investigator for the Army CID, returns to Coventry for the first time in many years.

His first morning back, he hears a thump on the front porch. Lying in front of the door is a human jawbone, the teeth still intact. And it is not the first such object, his father tells him. Other remains have been left there as well. Josh is coming home…bone by bone.

Using all his investigative skills, Oren sets out to solve the mystery of his brother’s murder, but Coventry is a town full of secrets and secret-keepers: the housekeeper with the fugitive past, the deputy with the old grudge, the reclusive ex-cop from L.A., the woman with the title of town monster, and, not least of all, Oren himself.

But the greatest secret of all belonged to his brother, and it is only by unraveling it that Oren can begin to discover the truth that has haunted them all for twenty years.

Warning: MAJOR spoilers below!

  • This book had a very interesting premise: sending the remains of a missing/presumed dead boy back home “bone by bone”. I thought that was a great way to reintroduce the cold case. Unfortunately, the author didn’t carry out the premise very far, as the special deliveries stopped after just two bones were sent and the full grave discovered almost immediately.


  • There was way too much jumping around to different characters’ points of view. Not only did this make the story more confusing to follow, but it prevented me from developing a sufficient attachment to any of the main players. Specifically, I wanted more from Oren or Hannah, the most interesting characters by far.
  • It made no sense that Hannah hid her knowledge of the murderer’s identity for so long. Initially, she didn’t reveal Dave (the alcoholic deputy and the boy that Oren beat up in front of the whole school in defense of Josh) as the killer because she was worried that Oren would “lose it” and kill Dave in retaliation. Okay, so maybe that excuse holds up for a few years at the most, at least until Oren matures. But to keep the secret buried for 20+ years was not at all believable.
  • WTF was the point of the Isabelle Winston character? Were readers supposed to view her full-on physical ASSAULTS of Oren as some kind of sexy foreplay? How were any of her violent actions toward him acceptable in any way??? Could you imagine if the roles were reversed and Oren just went up to her and slugged her or kicked her without provocation and without saying a word? How fucking dumb!
  • The down-home CIB investigator Sally Polk seemed like such a blatant ripoff of the Marge Gunderson character from Fargo that I couldn’t view her in any other way. All the similarities, whether intentional or not, bugged me and therefore made me hate this character (because I like Fargo a lot and didn’t appreciate the ripoff).
  • The author filled her small town with “quirky” characters just for the sake of having quirky characters. Why did the librarian have to be a smelly, non-showering bodybuilder? Yes, she lifted weights 20 years ago so she could defend herself against her abusive husband, but there was never an explanation given as to why she continued to do so after two decades. And what about the no-shower policy? Again, don’t expect an explanation for that.
  • Of course the small town cops were depicted as bumbling fools who couldn’t find their own assholes with a map. This is such a tired cliche, and yet it crops up over and over again in these kinds of novels. Sigh. (Incidentally, with all the mishandling of evidence and the coerced confession, I wonder how they can even build a legally sound case against Dave.)


I got Bone by Bone from the library because the blurb on the back of the book made it sound very intriguing. Score one for the marketing department. The reality for me was quite different, so I’m giving this book just 2 stars out of 5.

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