Top critical review
One person found this helpful
From Resurrectionists to Rosicrucians, Back in the 19th Century
on 28 March 2014
THE BONE GARDEN is a standalone medical thriller from New York Times bestselling author of THE MEPHISTO CLUB, New England-based physician Tess Gerritsen. Like her popular Rizzoli and Isles series, it is set in New England, in Boston and its surrounds, but Dr. Maura Isles, Boston forensic medical examiner, makes only a walk-on appearance here. It is, confusingly enough, set in the present day, and in 1830, and at various other 19th century dates. It uses a flashback and frame technique.
In the present day, 37- year old newly divorced Julia Hamill makes a sad discovery in the garden of her new rural Massachusetts home, which is more than 130 years old. She finds a skull buried in the rocky soil, that of a human female, according to Dr. Isles' trained eye. And it shows distinct symptoms of murder as cause of death. But the woman died long ago; Dr. Isles cannot identify her, and hands the case over to a colleague of hers from Harvard, Dr. Petrie, a forensic anthropologist.
Back to Boston, 1830: To pay for his education, farmer's son Norris Marshall, poor but promising student at Boston Medical College, has gone to work for a local "resurrectionist," as they were popularly called, a man who plunders graveyards and sells the bodies of the newly dead on the black market to medical schools. Then the bodies of nurses and doctors at the hospital related to Marshall's medical school begin turning up, cruelly carved by a person who clearly has knowledge of medicine and the butcher's trade. The city is terrified, panicked, and the press dubs the unknown serial killer The West End Reaper. Because of his background and schooling, Norris finds himself a prime suspect.
Norris believes that he must track down the only witness to have glimpsed the killer to prove his innocence. She is Rose Connolly, a beautiful seamstress, a recent immigrant from Ireland. Norris had met her briefly at the hospital sickbed of her sister beautiful parlor maid Aurnia, who died in childbirth, giving Rose a niece Margaret, to be known as Meg. Rose feels herself to be hunted by the killer, hides herself and her niece carefully in Boston's slums. In his search for her, Norris is joined by a medical school friend, the sardonic, keenly intelligent young man named Oliver Wendell Holmes, an actual real-life person who will one day make quite a name for himself in the real world. Once Rose is found, the three comb city and countryside --from its grim cemeteries and autopsy suites to its polished mansions and centers of old moneyed power, the rich, high status Boston Brahmins, as they are known. At one point, Norris is taken to a private home hidden out in the country, which he discovers is a stop on the Underground Railway, a network of concerned citizens fighting for the abolition of slavery and the freedom of slaves; this network of human rights devotees call themselves the Rosicrucians. So, his story takes this hopeful doctor-to-be from Resurrectionists to Rosicrucians, back in the 1830s.
Gerritsen began as a romance novelist. Her first medical thriller, HARVEST, was released in hardcover in 1996; it was her debut on the NEW YORK TIMES bestseller list. It was followed by medical thrillers LIFE SUPPORT (1997), BLOODSTREAM (1998), GRAVITY (1999). In 2001, the author began producing forensic thrillers. THE SURGEON was her first Jane Rizzoli thriller. Since then, she's written THE APPRENTICE (2002), THE SINNER (2003), BODY DOUBLE (2004), VANISH (2005, an Edgar Award nominee), and THE MEPHISTO CLUB (2006). Gerritsen is surely a fine writer, and the book brims with substantial period detail, gives us a good picture of Boston, its weather, citizens, byways and highways, back then, and in the current day. The book is a quick read. She can't be beat on her medical detail. But be warned, readers with sensitive stomachs, some of that medical detail is quite gruesome.
However, I really dislike the flashback and frame format, unless it is absolutely necessary to tell the story. In this case, it's quite confusing: you never know which century the story is in, the 19th or the 21st. And I can't see any necessity to have given this book its current-day frame, unless to provide the reader with Dr. Isle' walk-on. Or a weak and boring current-day romance. If that's what most readers demand, because I sure don't. I've never read Gerritsen before; though I do sometimes look at RIZZOLI AND ISLES, the television series based on her works. Am not sure I'd ever read her again based on this sample of her work.