Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bone House

Hi Flower.

Ah...the Read It Or Remove It pile is diminishing, my friend. That is satisfying. There have been bright spots and a few why-the-hell-have-I-been-dusting-this-piece-o'crap-for-the-last-four-years spots. My most recent bright spot was Bone House by Betsy Tobin.

Bone House is a historical mystery. The historical part of the book is the small English village setting in 1603. The mystery part of the book is the violent killing of the popular and pregnant prostitute, Dora. Dora's death weighs especially heavily on a young chambermaid from the local great house. This unnamed Maid is the novel's narrator. She was lucky to have gotten her job as maid to the elderly mistress and her deformed son, Edward. Her background is sketchy. Mom is the village midwife/healer and as such is both needed and feared. Mom's position has brought her into contact with the high and low of the village for good and bad reasons. Given Dora's profession she had many reasons to use the midwife's services. They were good friends and consequently Dora was a strong presence in the Maid's life.

The list of suspects in Dora's brutal murder is a who's who of the village including to the manor born Edward. When Edward requests the Maid's help to secretly commission a visiting painter to do a portrait of Dora they discover that her grave has been robbed. Dora's corpse is missing, why? Suddenly Dora's death is even more mysterious and sinister.

Tobin's Elizabethan village and it's citizens are well rounded. She uses a significant amount of detail regarding the daily life of the seventeenth century to set the mood. She easily excites interest in the habits, attitudes and beliefs of the period. The belief in the 1600's (any in many, many other centuries) in the inherent mental and physical frailty of women is used by Tobin to highlight the Maid's scant choices in life. She could emulate Dora's independence, even though it is founded on selling her body, or be forever indepted to either a husband or employer as a protector.

Bone House was an excellent read. It reminded me a little of The Observations. Each novel uses a sharp maid as a narrator, has a mystery at it's core and has quite a bit to say about how stifling and frightening it was to be a women in those times. Betsy Tobin has written a stimulating mystery, a provocative history and involving characters. That was the very nice, good news. The not so good news is that it is currently out of print as a paper book but you might find it in a second hand shop or as an e-book.


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