The Diabolical Bones by Bella Ellis

TheDiabolicalBonesMy Five Word TL:DR Review : A thoroughly enjoyable period mystery.

I simply couldn’t resist requesting a copy of the Diabolical Bones – the Bronte sisters turn detective – and I’m so happy that I was approved because this was just the book I needed.  A real pick me up or tonic to get me out of a reading funk.  Just to be clear though – this is a murder mystery so although very gentle, charming even, there is a body – in fact a skeleton, uncovered behind a chimney breast and talk of a man who sold his soul to the devil.

For this particular review I’m not going to overly discuss the plot but instead talk about all the other elements that I enjoyed so much.  The plot itself starts with the discovery of a child’s bones within the chimney breast of Scartop House, a farm belonging to the Bradshaws and from there it becomes a sinister tale with the sisters seeking counsel from ‘seers’, spinsters and a poorly run orphanage.

Firstly, the period and setting.  Ellis has managed to easily portray the village and home where the Brontes live with the moors on their very doorstep.  I love books set during the Victorian period and this is no exception.  The author manages to write in a style that is reminiscent of the era and the sensibilities of the period whilst at the same time giving the story a more modern and accessible feel.  The setting itself is bursting at the seams with gothic delight and the winter setting and furious cold of the moors only adds to this.

Secondly, the family itself.  I loved the way the author depicts the Bronte family.  Their love and care for each other is apparent, even if they have small differences, their affection is still very prominent.  The girls were well educated and brimming over with imagination and enthusiasm for the literary world.  Charlotte seemed to be the driving force behind their publication, Emily seemed to be almost indifferent to success and Anne seemed to fulfill the role of the glue that holds them together.  Bradwell also plays a role here although he seems to be already suffering from despair and a reliance on alcohol.  What comes across abundantly is the author’s love for this family and their literary works.

The story is really well drawn.  Obviously, given the period the three sisters are inhibited by certain protocols but they often get around such inconveniences by having their brother accompany them on their missions.  On top of that the plot is suitably macabre, there is considerable fear on the part of the sisters, particularly Charlotte, who fears what they’re getting themselves into, and also there’s the brutality of certain suspects.  Always, there’s the atmosphere surrounding the places visited during the girl’s investigations.  The places are well described, often barren or remote, cold or harsh with little by way of comfort.  Times were hard and this comes across well here and the tone is reflective of the sisters’ own works.

The other thing that I absolutely loved were the references to the Bronte’s work – and by that, I don’t mean that the author directly references their stories because of course at the time depicted they weren’t published – more that she uses this story to show some of the inspiration that they drew upon with their own writing, and of course whilst this is a fictional account it comes across as plausible which adds a certain gravitas to the book.  I would add though, for clarity, I don’t think you need to have read the Brontes to enjoy this novel (although I obviously recommend you do so).  I think this would still read very well without any prior knowledge.

In terms of criticism.  Well, much like the Brontes, Ellis has gone for a dramatic, almost over the top style with a villain that is suitably disturbed and perhaps a little easy to spot.  I don’t particularly see this as a problem as there are red herrings along the way to muddy the waters.  Other than that I have nothing more to add.

I really enjoyed this and I would love to read more adventures from the Bronte sisters and their family.  This is very light on fantasy and more falling on the side of murder mystery but there are some rather creepy visits to the Haworth cemetery and a ghostly visitation.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publishers, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4.5 of 5 stars