SKIN AND BONES - Tom Bale
Tom Bale, it seems, is a pseudonym for David Harrison who wrote SINS OF THE FATHER in 2006, which goes some way to explaining the deftness of touch in this crime fiction thriller. It may also go some way to explaining how the author has managed to install an almost cinematic feel to the action.
In an opening series of scenes that, frankly, were so chilling that they disturbed this reader, everything starts out very quietly one very cold January morning in the sleepy English village of Chilton. Julia Trent's in town to continue clearing out the house of her recently deceased parents - a dreadful accident with a malfunctioning boiler, they both died in their sleep. A glance to the left that cold morning, and Julia is involved. Closely pursued by a deranged young man, who has already shot everyone in his path on that quiet January morning, she's running away from a man who is taunting her, enjoying her terror. Saved once when Phillip Walker, already wounded, sacrifices himself, she thinks she might be saved again when a lone figure in a motorcycle helmet and leathers approaches the man on the village green. She quickly finds out she was very very wrong.
Julia - not a spoiler - she's one of the central characters in the novel after all, survives, albeit after being badly injured. But her story of the second man is dismissed as the panic, the fright, delusion on her part. Nobody else in Chilton, (because there were other people who survived in hiding, traumatised themselves), reported seeing the second man. The only person who believes her is Craig, Phillip Walker's son. Craig has had his own problems in recent life with a marriage that is strained to breaking point already by his wife's infidelity, so the pointless, tragic death of his father, in an act of selfless bravery saving Julia, is a turning point for him. Both Julia and Craig have to find this second man, because they know he was there, and because they know he wants Julia, in particular, to stay silent.
This is a book that says quite a bit about manipulation, control and influence. The terror that Julia experiences is beautifully executed by this author, the flight, the pursuit and the ultimate confusion over the appearance of the second man. "The killer" as he's referred to makes that fleeting appearance in the first part of the book, but his presence is felt throughout, his identity hidden as he slowly reveals himself, talking to his own controller, watching Julia and Craig, alternatively menacing and yet, there's something else about him as well. There's also the developer George Matheson - a man who has been trying to redevelop the little village, a proposal that Craig's father Phillip was vehemently opposed to. George is, in his own right, a fascinating character. At the same time that the massacre occurs, and he and his nephew Toby are talking about how to redevelop Chilton, George's wife Vanessa is dying from cancer. George seems to be genuinely distressed by the events that took place in Chilton, and yet there is the possibility that he is somehow involved.
There are some elements to SKIN AND BONES that don't work quite as well though. The anonymous "killer" scenes in which he reveals his thinking, his manipulating, and his own puppet-master are predictable although well written, and I would suspect that readers will be able to make a reasonable stab at the anonymous killer's identity. Stay with it though, as all is not as it seems, and there are some surprises to come. It does feel very wrong to be using a word like enjoyed about a book that starts out with a shooting massacre. I did enjoy it though, this is a really good crime fiction book with well executed thriller aspects, and a couple of central characters in Julia and Craig who you really are going to want the best for.
On a cold January morning, a nightmare awaits in a small Sussex village. A deranged young man goes on the rampage, shooting everyone in his path before taking his own life. It is a senseless, tragic event, but sadly not an unfamiliar one. At least, that's what everyone thinks.