Bone Harvest tells the story of retiree Dennie Keeling, a woman suffering with the effects of early dementia, and her life working on her allotment. A sweet and kindly woman, Dennie is the hero of the book, a hero who is forced to step up and fight against otherworldly horrors as a bizarre and deadly cult begins to form when two new members join the allotment.
Dennie has been living alone for a number of years, her husband having passed away and her children all grown up, and as such has been pouring all her spare time into her allotment; even sleeping in her shed some nights, much to the annoyance of those running the place. As such, when she begins to suspect that there’s something strange with these new members she feels as if it’s down to her to protect her home away from home, as well as the other people who use the allotments.
However, Dennie has been suffering from ill health, and any claims she makes of something unusual going on will only be blamed on her dementia, forcing her to investigate alone. When Dennie begins to see the ghost of an old friend, who seems to want to help her in her mission, she must figure out if there are strange forces at work, or if perhaps others might be right and she may be losing her mind.
One of the things I really enjoyed about Bone Harvest was that James Brogden skipped over some of the sense of mystery that other books would use to hook you. Instead, you get a lot of answers up front, as the first hundred or so pages of the book are given over to Everett and Ardwyn, the book’s antagonists. We learn who these people are, why they do the things they do, and if there actually is a supernatural being behind everything. Other books wouldn’t have done this, they’d have teased these revelations out over the narrative and used the mystery to hook the readers.
Instead of relying on mystery to keep you reading Brogden lets you in on the secrets and uses the horror of the truth to keep you hooked. Instead of thinking ‘what bad things might happen?’ the reader knows exactly what might happen, and is instead worried about who it might happen to. It also means that instead of learning things along with the hero like a lot of novels, we’re one step ahead in this mystery, and get to see her close calls with danger, or getting nearer to answers. It’s a strange position to be in, knowing more than the protagonist, and leads to some frustrating moments where we see her getting so close to the truth but just missing out on her answers.
Another thing that really jumps out about the book is just how English it is. The horror is rooted in how ordinary and somewhat boring the narrative is. Dennie lives in a small town that feels very real and recognisable, and the allotments are an English institution that you’ll find in most towns around the country. I loved how grounded the book feels and how relatable it is. These are people and places that I know, and I’m sure other readers will find familiar too. This could have very easily been my grandparents and their allotment neighbours as opposed to made up characters. It was really nice to get a horror book that feels so relatable when so many horror stories seem to be set in places elsewhere around the world rather than rural England.
It is also nice to have a book where the protagonist isn’t your average kind of hero too. Dennie is an older woman, her body isn’t as fit as it used to be, and her mind is beginning to suffer thanks to dementia. Things that other characters would be able to do without issue are a struggle for her. Something as simple as sneaking along in the dark to spy on the strange new people at the allotments are a difficulty for her as her joints hurt, she can’t move as fast, and has no way to protect herself if she gets caught. It highlighted how things that most people might simply take for granted could be a challenge for others. As a disabled person I love getting to read a protagonist who isn’t able-bodied, who has some of the same struggles that I do.
After reading Bone Harvest I’m definitely exited to read more of James Brogden. He’s managed to craft an engaging and engrossing tale, one that goes against a lot of horror and mystery conventions by letting the audience in on the secrets, but manages to never feel boring or predictable. Bone Harvest is a book that took my expectations and turned them on their head, and one that’s definitely going to stick out in my memory.
Bone Harvest is out on 17th November from Titan Books.