Bone by Bone

Bone by Bone

4.1 35
by Carol O'Connell

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Brothers Oren and Josh disappear into the woods. Only Oren comes out. Twenty years later, the mystery of what happened to Josh is going to be exposed, and somebody is finally sending him home-bone by bone.  See more details below


Brothers Oren and Josh disappear into the woods. Only Oren comes out. Twenty years later, the mystery of what happened to Josh is going to be exposed, and somebody is finally sending him home-bone by bone.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

At the start of O'Connell's atmospheric if overplotted stand-alone, former army CID warrant officer Oren Hobbs travels back to the small town of Coventry, Calif., where bones have begun to appear on the family property. Oren's father, a retired judge, is convinced they belong to Josh, Oren's 15-year-old brother, who vanished in the woods when Oren was 17. The town abounds in rumors as well as suspects, from a disfigured and reclusive ex-LAPD officer to a once beautiful hotel owner who may have had an affair with teenage Oren. When a grave is discovered in the woods, Oren is surprised that the broken bones belong not only to Josh but to an unknown woman. Determined to solve his brother's murder, Oren must face his own past and the real possibility that the killer might strike again. O'Connell's characters are complex as always, but she often suffocates them under unnecessary red herrings. Nevertheless, fans of her Kathleen Mallory series (Find Me, etc.) as well as new readers will be satisfied. Author tour. (Jan.)

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Library Journal

Twenty years after the disappearance of his younger brother, Josh, Oren Hobbs quits his career as an Army CID investigator and comes home because he believes his father is dying. Instead, he finds that someone has been leaving human bones on the porch of his father's house and that his father is ready to bury both Josh and the past without further investigation. When the local sheriff is both obtuse and obstructive about the case, Oren reluctantly gets drawn into investigating what happened all those years ago. In the process, he stirs up memories for several troubled townspeople of this seemingly idyllic enclave. Oren must also face his own past and present crimes. Intriguing, complex characters and long-buried secrets help build suspense and a sense of dread in this new stand-alone by the author of the gripping Mallory series (Find Me ). Although O'Connell explores new characters and crimes here, her focus remains tight on the damage that humans can do to each other. Highly recommended for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ 9/1/08.]-Devon Thomas, DevIndexing, Chelsea, MI

Kirkus Reviews
A young soldier comes home after a 20-year absence to find his widowed father aged, his loyal housekeeper unchanged and his kid brother returning, piece by piece, after having vanished two decades before. The disappearance of Josh, back when the two Hobbs brothers were teenagers, never made sense. Although no body had been found in the woods around their small Northern California town, Oren knew his brother was not a runaway. A sensitive and perceptive youth, Josh was also a gifted photographer, his snapshots often revealing more about their small town's populace than was comfortable. But the inept investigation at the time had seemed to point to Oren himself, a seductive young man involved with several of the town's women. These suspicions-and the unyielding personality of his father, a judge-had chased Oren into the Army, where he became a criminal investigator. When he comes back, believing wrongly that his father is dying, he makes a grisly discovery. Someone is returning Josh bone by bone, leaving the relics on the old judge's front porch. It's soon revealed that the mysterious visitor is leaving the remains of other victims as well. O'Connell (Find Me, 2007, etc.) knows how to get into a protagonist's head, mixing guilt and suspicion as one shady character after another surfaces. But the plotting has gaps. The local sheriff is too trusting of Oren, and his unofficial deputizing of the surviving Hobbs boy is accepted without sufficient reason or questioning. The strange neighbors are all a tad too Gothic with their obsessions, addictions and curious scars. Multiple points of view let us into these bizarre characters' heads, but none of them are as vivid as Oren, and the final effectis cartoonish rather than suspenseful. Over-the-top characters show up weak plot points in this psychological thriller.
Sarah Weinman
Most crime fiction by definition follows a linear pattern. Someone is murdered, usually in the earliest pages. A police detective is dispatched to the scene and asked to investigate, or a private investigator signs on when all leads are exhausted and seemingly all mean streets have been explored. Then comes resolution, with one twist or several, and early-going chaos is transformed into late-blooming order.

It's a storytelling template that, by accommodating even the most far-out premise and idiosyncratic character, ends up masking its inherently conservative core. A new voice is considered fresh not because it breaks new ground but because it tweaks a single element -- setting, social concerns, domestic situation, you name it -- and in doing so convinces the reader there is something different at work.

Carol O'Connell, however, belongs in a whole other category. Her authorial voice has little patience with conventions or formula or linearity. If crime novels are the equivalent of sonata form, adhering to the tight constraints of exposition, development and recapitulation, O'Connell adheres to serialism, reshuffling convention according to larger whims and broader canvases. Reading one of her books is like squinting at a Seurat painting up close, each page a step backward until the pattern emerges, shockingly whole, at the end -- with more than enough loose ends to make us wonder if there's a whole other pointillist work of art embedded within the original frame.

There are no better examples of crime fiction written from the oblique than O'Connell's series of novels featuring Mallory (her first name is Kathleen, but woe to those who dare utter it in her presence), an NYPD detective whose methods seem barely contained by the framework of procedure and investigation -- not when there's computer hacking to be done or bad people to punish, according to a code that rational people might interpret as sociopathic. But in eight novels -- from 1994's Mallory's Oracle, in which the eponymous heroine shakes out secret-filled trees to discover who killed her adoptive father and policing mentor, to Find Me, with its blood-drenched quest along Route 66 in search of a child killer and her father's whereabouts, -- readers have come to discover that Mallory's seemingly predatory qualities are made palatable by her unshakeable sense of justice and loyalty to those few people she trusts. Her friends are few, male, and often openly or secretly in love with Mallory, but in her mind they are family.

Early installments of the Mallory novels came out in consecutive years, but a character looming as large as she does now needs regular rest. So O'Connell instead switches gears with her first stand-alone novel in a decade. Like Judas Child, arguably her best work, Bone by Bone operates within the confines of a small, claustrophobic town, in direct parallel with the urban Manhattan that Mallory calls home. Just as that series manipulates the conventions of the police procedural and Judas Child darkly tweaked the traditional premise of child murders, Bone by Bone subverts the surface of what's now a cliché -- two teens go into the woods and only one comes out -- by making the tale subservient to a larger study of the consequences of holding on to secrets for a dangerously long time.

Oren Hobbs was the older of the two teens in question, and after his 15-year-old brother, Josh, became the most enduring mystery of the Northern California town of Coventry 20 years before, he ran away to the Army -- eventually serving as a warrant officer in the Criminal Investigations Division. What greets Oren upon his arrival home is a sick father, the town's long-standing and recently retired judge, and a jawbone belonging to Josh, thrown on the porch with a loud thump -- just one of several bones, "dusted with soil" with the skull bearing "the circular marks of cloth-wiped dirt" appearing at the Hobbs house since the boy went missing.

That Oren will be drawn into investigating what really happened to Josh, and that it will require him to delve into the recesses of long-buried memories, is not just understood but almost an afterthought. Instead, O'Connell is more interested in taking a magnifying glass to Coventry's denizens and illuminating the part of the town's life hidden to the naked eye. There's the crumbling marriage of town scions Addison and Sarah Winston and the deleterious effect upon their daughter, Isabelle, whose smoky rebelliousness is reminiscent of an untamed horse. Hannah, who keeps house at the Hobbs's stead, fools all with a placid demeanor (akin to her namesake in the Nancy Drew books) that covers troubling inconsistencies in her back-story. Ferris Monty collects photographs and takes a disturbing interest in Josh's fate, but somehow he comes off with more sympathy and less suspicion. And what of Alice Friday, the local who loves to host séances? O'Connell does not mask the inherent cynicism for those who believe in the power of the Ouija board, but nor does she outright dismiss its strange power, either.

Though O'Connell's prose is omniscient to the point of flatness, she reserves room for dark humor, and in one of the most provocative scenes in Bone by Bone, a high charge of eroticism develops through a tango danced between Oren and his former schoolmate Isabelle, as they now set "out to destroy each other in every move they made." The reader can almost hear and smell the longing and contempt that provokes Oren's father to remark, "I don't think I've ever seen blood drawn on a dance floor."

That line encapsulates the magic and the music of Bone by Bone, the astonishing sense of rhythm and control O'Connell marshals as she metes out information, unveils the darker impulses of her characters, and captures every throb and every nuance of this precisely imagined world. What lingers far longer than the surprises of the narrative is the image of her town of ghosts, a town that "had lost its charm and become a nightmare state where monsters roamed, walking birds with fangs and curled knives for talons." --Sarah Weinman

Sarah Weinman reviews crime fiction for the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun and blogs about the genre at Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind (

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
A Mallory Novel , #11
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Sales rank:
File size:
485 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

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4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 35 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Twenty years ago, then seventeen Oren Hobbs and his fifteen years old brother Josh are walking in the woods taking separate paths. When they fail to meet up, Oren searches for his sibling but his efforts prove unsuccessful; the Coventry, California townsfolk attempts to find Josh also are futile. It is as if the teen just vanished into thin air. His despondent father sends Oren to boarding school and Oren thinks it is because he didn¿t want to look at him as a reminder of their loss; from their Oren joins the army where he becomes a CID investigator. He leaves the force when the family housekeeper informs him his father is dying.

Oren returns home for the first time in two decades only to find his dad in perfect health. Something creepy is happening top his family, which is why the housekeeper asked him to come home. Josh¿s bones are left on the porch every night and his dad places them in a coffin in Josh¿s room every morning. Someone appears to know where Josh was killed and the sheriff, not interested in a cold case, gives Oren permission to investigate. Like any town, Coventry has its dark secrets, which Oren plans to bring into the light so that he and his family can finally attain closure.

Whereas Mallory takes a breather, the great Carol O'Connell provides a deep psychological suspense thriller that will give readers goose-bumps. Readers see skeletons in the closet slowly revealed as Oren gets closer to the truth. The eccentric support cast provides a strong feeling of small-town California living while their point of view enhances the cold case whodunit investigation. However, as with the Mallory series, Ms. O¿Connor digs deep into the lingering psychological aftermath of human atrocities on surviving family members and their circle of friends and neighbors; the entire town of Coventry is still haunted twenty hears after the tragedy.

Harriet Klausner
VSliker More than 1 year ago
Bone by Bone was my first Carol O'Connell book. Two words sum up this book: Character Driven. It's the characters that draw me into a book, the characters who cause me to set the book down or continue reading, and when I opened this book, the characters grabbed me instantly. (the small town setting was no less draw either) Oren, a recently retired criminal investigator for the Army, returns home after a 20-year banishment. Page by page, like peeling an onion, we learn the story behind his banishment. Page by page we peel back the crusty shell around his father's heart and experience the lifetime love of Hannah, the housekeeper who raised Oren and sustained Oren's father through tremendous loss. Page by page we unravel the mysterious disappearance of Oren's brother, Josh and the mysterious reappearance of Josh's bones, appearing one by one on Hannah's front patio. Character by character we wonder "who dunnit?" Character by character we glimpse into the human struggles of life, experiencing the weight of mental illness, the obsession of selfish love, the hardship of physical handicap, the shame of low self-esteem and the loneliness of self-protective fear. And it's all tied together with a mystery in which the reader plays detective. I'm going to try some of O'Connell's Mallory novels, but I'm a huge Amelia Sach's fan (Jeffery Deaver) and an even bigger Kay Scarpetta fan (Patricia Cornwell) and I keep Temperance Brennan (Kathy Reichs) for backup if Sachs or Scrapetta are otherwise occupied, so Kathy Mallory will have to work hard to earn a spot on my bookshelf with these ladies, but good luck to her, the game is on.
Cohee More than 1 year ago
Although I'm a huge fan of Detective Mallory, I took a chance because Carol O'Connell is such a talented author. This book was such a surprise, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! I couldn't stop reading it. Anyone who's looking for a good "who-done it?" will find this book fits the bill. It was a true page turner and I can't wait for her next title!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book for book club. Had a hard time following the story line and who was who with the characters. By the time I got to the middle of the story, I had sorted out the characters. The book is good. Did have a surprise ending.
MaDonnaLA More than 1 year ago
Worst book I've read in a long time. I could never get into the characters or get a good visual. I kept reading to finish, thinking it had to get better, but never did. I found myself speed reading just to get to the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was too disjointed and made no attempt to create any sympathy for anybody in it, even Oren. It was like a first novel.
Denverhawkeye More than 1 year ago
Carol O'Connell is one of my long-time favorites. I still miss Malory - but this is a very good, suspenseful, entertaining read.
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mare-nyc More than 1 year ago
The read was fast and interesting at points. I did not find the characters convincing and the love story was really lacking. The ending of this book was quite a letdown for me. It seemed like the author just ran out of steam and settled for a plausible outcome instead of an intriguing one.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a good book that kept me interested and had me guessing all the way through. The characters were interesting and well written. It was suspenseful and a good mystery overall. At first I thought it was going to be similar to A Quiet Belief In Angels but it had it's own twists and turns with all of the characters own stories. If you like this genre, I would recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is just an ok read. I never felt connected to the characters and found some of the plot hard to follow.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very Good. I have always loved O'Connell and these new characters are great.