The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen


SuspenseThe Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen

The Bone GardenTess Gerritsen; Ballantine Books 2008WorldCatJulia Hamill bought an old, fixer-upper home after her divorce. While working in the garden, she digs up a set of bones over 175 years old. A neighbor gets her in contact with a elderly family member of the woman who owned the house before her. The house had been in the woman’s family since the early 1800’s. They start going through her old papers and discover letter from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Flashback to 1830 or so: Norris Marshall is a medical student at Boston University. As a farmer’s son, he has to work his way through school. He often works as a Resurrectionist or grave robber to provide the medical schools with cadavers. One of his classmates is Holmes. While on rounds, he meets Rose Connolly at her sister’s bedside. Her sister is dying of childbed fever. After her sister dies, Rose takes the baby girl to a wet nurse.

Then the murders start near the hospital. Two nurses and a doctor are found dead and mutilated. Soon Norris is believed to be the West End Killer. Rose believes differently, especially after another friend, a messenger boy, is also threatened. Someone may be after the baby. She has to convince Holmes, a sympathetic ear, of her convictions before Norris becomes another victim of the West End Killer.

I’m not sure why Gerritsen wrote the present day portion of The Bone Garden. It adds little to the novel and falls flat – although I liked the elderly man. The historical section was better. That’s where the suspense is as well as the romance. Even still the only character who really seems alive is the one who really was – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. The mystery has its twists right up until the unfortunate end.

Gerritsen uses The Bone Garden to showcase one of the major epidemics of the time – childbed fever. It had an easy cure that wasn’t discovered (or believed) for many years – simple hand washing between patients. At the time doctors still hadn’t realized how easy it is to spread infection through liquids and touch. Holmes later wrote a major paper about the problem but it was dismissed at first as too radical.

The Bone Garden is an average novel. I understand Gerritsen has some wonderful work, but this one is just OK.

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