Book Review: Tall Bones – Anna Bailey

I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

About The Book

When seventeen-year-old Emma leaves her best friend Abi at a party in the woods, she believes, like most girls her age, that their lives are just beginning. Many things will happen that night, but Emma will never see her friend again.

Abi’s disappearance cracks open the façade of the small town of Whistling Ridge, its intimate history of long-held grudges and resentment. Even within Abi’s family, there are questions to be asked – of Noah, the older brother whom Abi betrayed, of Jude, the shining younger sibling who hides his battle scars, of Dolly, her mother and Samuel, her father – both in thrall to the fire and brimstone preacher who holds the entire town in his grasp. Then there is Rat, the outsider, whose presence in the town both unsettles and excites those around him.

Anything could happen in Whistling Ridge, this tinder box of small-town rage, and all it will take is just one spark – the truth of what really happened that night out at the Tall Bones….

My Review

Emma and Abi are best friends, they’ve grown up together and are navigating being seventeen year olds in a small town side by side. They attend a party one night and when Emma wants to leave, Abi decides to stay. Emma checks she is sure that she definitely doesn’t want a lift home and when Abi insists that she is fine, Emma head off in her car. That is the last time anybody will see Abi alive.

Whistling Ridge is a small community, where everybody knows every else’s business and the church plays a large role in setting the tone for the moral compass of the town. Pastor Lewis runs the church with an iron fist and uses his power to influence and coerce his parishioners into following the word of the Lord, breeding a culture of misogyny, racism and xenophobia. This is one of those towns where everything looks perfect, but scratch beneath the surface and there are dark thoughts and dangerous deeds. They may think that they are living a Godly life, but they turn a blind eye to the events which take place in Abi’s family home and do little to welcome Rat Lăcustă, a young man from Romania who has recently moved to a trailer park on the outskirts of town.

The disappearance of Abi brings the darkness hidden behind closed doors firmly into the light. Everybody knows that Abi’s family is odd, that her dad, Samuel is not a man to be crossed. They see the bruises on the face of Abi’s mother Dolly, they haven’t questioned why the eldest son, Noah didn’t go to University as planned and nobody has thought to ask why Jude, Abi’s younger brother walks with a stick. The Blake house is not a happy place at all, yet rather than helping they turn a blind eye. Bailey writes about this family with immense sensitivity and compassion. There are moments which are difficult and upsetting to read, but they provide background and add further layers to the feeling of menace permeating throughout the town.

Emma’s grief and guilt at the loss of Abi consumes her, causing her to find solace in alcohol and in a friendship with Rat. Emma is written so beautifully. She has so many feelings that she doesn’t know how to express and finds herself eaten away by her hand in Abi’s disappearance. Her relationship with Rat is the only thing keeping her from disaster and their burgeoning friendship leaps from the pages.

Using a dual timeline of both the present and the past, the events which lead up to Abi’s disappearance are laid bare for us. Dual timelines can be a difficult narrative structure to handle but Bailey writes this with a deft touch. Astonishingly this is a debut novel but it reads like a book written by a novelist with a number of books under her belt. It draws the reader in so vividly that Whistling Ridge felt like a real place. It is oppressive, atmospheric and exceptionally plotted with characters who leap from the pages and a book that should absolutely be on your radar.

Where You Can Buy It

My thanks to Doubleday for providing me with a copy of Tall Bones via Netgalley.

Tall Bones by Anna Bailey is out now in both hardcover and ebook.

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