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The Bone House by Brian Freeman
Cover Artist: Photo: Bruce Cairns / Trevillion Images
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312562830
Date: 29 March 2011 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Interview: Brian Freeman / Show Official Info /

In Door County, Wisconsin, ten-year-old Glory Fischer watched horrified as someone struck a match and set the Bone House on fire, burning alive Nettie Bone and her two sons Karl and Scott. Harris Bone was arrested but escaped before his trial. Six years later, a drunken Glory is dancing on the beach in Naples, Florida. The next morning she is found strangled to death. Suspicion falls upon former English teacher Mark Bradley who was fired one year earlier for having an affair with Glory’s older sister, Tresa. Can Mark and his wife Hilary find the true killer before more innocent people die?

Brian Freeman’s The Bone House is by far the most terrifying, most suspenseful novel I've read in a long time. I highly recommend putting this one at the top of your list of mysteries to read this spring. The plot is extremely engaging from its fiery opening to its shocking revelation. Not since Douglas Corleone's One Man's Paradise, have I been so genuinely surprised by the killer's identity. A complex, multilayered plot; gruesome, bloody deaths; tortured, abused characters; and a cold, dreary setting combine to make The Bone House a novel that made me lose sleep. Long after I had finished reading this superb mystery, I had difficulty escaping the Bone House myself.

What I liked most about The Bone House is the cold, isolated setting. Door County, Wisconsin actually exists; it is a long, narrow peninsula that has Lake Michigan on the East and Green Bay on the West. The water is extremely treacherous. Mark and Hilary Bradley live on Washington Island which is near the very end of the peninsula. It is reachable only by a small ferry which has a tight schedule during the winter months. The last ferry leaves at 5:00 P.M. When they first moved there, Mark and Hilary thought it was a paradise. However, now that Mark has been accused of killing Glory and their house vandalized, the couple realize the dangers of living on an isolated island where a killer can be lurking in the woods and help can take a long time in arriving.

Like Hester Prynne of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, the small, inbred community of Door County shuns and harasses Mark. They believe he is a pedophile who had sexual relationships with his student Tresa. A former golf pro, Mark is extremely attractive and has had women fawn over him all his life. However, his wife Hilary has been a pillar of support for Mark; she has faith and trust in their relationship. She believes he is innocent of having sex with Tresa and killing Glory. Having faith and trust in one's partner seems to be a recurrent theme in The Bone House. Detective Cab Bolton of Naples, Florida, can't trust women; he keeps ignoring the romantic inclinations of crime scene analyst Lala Mosqueda; his former girlfriend betrayed him in Barcelona, Spain. Several other characters have committed adultery. Door County may be isolated and sparsely populated but it has more drama than a television soap opera.

Teachers having sex with students is also a recurrent theme in The Bone House. Mark Bradley isn't the only teacher suspected of having an affair with a student. Gary Jensen, who is a dance coach at Green Bay University, is suspected of killing his wife who found out about his affairs with students. I thought about buying The Bone House as a gift for my Sunday School teacher who likes to read mysteries, but then I remembered he was once a university football coach and is now a middle school principal. He may feel uncomfortable reading this novel. Pedophilia is one of those perverse crimes that people hate discussing. It makes some people very mad -- mad enough to kill. The reader can't help but fear for the safety of Mark who is an innocent victim. Or is he? Detective Bolton keeps insisting that "Nobody knows anybody."

As I said earlier in my review, trust is a major theme of Brian Freeman’s The Bone House. Now, I want you to trust me when I say it is a great mystery that should be on everyone’s reading list this spring. Within minutes after reading the last words, I was e-mailing my friends that they need to read The Bone House.

Besides being a great mystery, it has strong elements of romance and horror. Mark and Hilary love each other deeply and they are determined to fight hard to preserve their way of life on Washington Island; they cling together amidst a sea of turmoil. The citizens of Door County never accept a stranger as one of their own and will do anything to keep their secrets hidden from the public eye. Door Country reminded me of the type of small towns often depicted in novels written by horror legends Stephen King, John Saul, and Dan Simmons.


Our Readers Respond

From: Lynn Genter
    Now THIS is a good review! I've read THE BONE HOUSE, and you really captured the essence!

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