If you’ve never read a novel by one of the Brontë sisters, it doesn’t matter. There is plenty to enjoy about the Brontë Mysteries by Bella Ellis without figuring out the innumerable references to Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The Diabolical Bones is second in the crime series after the impressive first, The Vanished Bride. This one is better, and darker.
When bones are found interred in the walls of a local house on the moor, the three detecting sisters and reluctant brother Branwell set out to confirm the child’s identity so it can be respectfully buried. There are few clues; the location of the find, the father and son who live in the house, the age of the child, and a medallion found with the bones. Top Withens, the remote house concerned, is said to be Emily’s inspiration for the house of the Earnshaw family, Wuthering Heights.
Ellis has constructed a convincing world for the sisters; the parsonage, their blind father, housekeeper Tabby, the villagers in Haworth and wider circle of acquaintances. The charm of this portrayal of the Brontës is the strength of the series. Branwell’s presence is key as in 1852, lone women could not venture out as the sisters do here without the company of a man. The portrayal of the sisters is fascinating, the dynamic between the three, the shared history and understanding of each other, the irritations and the love, their intellectual capabilities, their doubts and bravery. Each has differing strengths which lend weight to the investigations. Emily is impulsive and inspired, Anne is calm and logical, Charlotte is clever but insecure. As Anne says, ‘Detecting does seem to involve a great deal of time looking for something that might not exist.’
It is winter and freezing cold and as the sisters wrap themselves in cloaks to adventure outdoors, the atmosphere is dark and Gothic. Social issues are addressed; the exploitation of orphan children, the plight of urban and rural poor, the prejudice against Irish immigrants, the privilege of wealth.
Of course, the reward when reading crime novels is to spot the murderer early in the tale. I admit to thinking ‘surely it’s not…’ This plot is well constructed; read it and see if you spot any early clues. The story skips along at a fair pace and when I put the book down, I was always longing to read just another chapter.
The series is fast becoming a favourite. Brilliant escapism.
BUY THE BOOK
Here’s my review of The Vanished Bride, first in the Brontë mysteries series.
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE DIABOLICAL BONES by Bella Ellis @brontemysteries #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4YZ via @SandraDanby