Naming the Bones
Review: A professor of literature intends to write the definitive biography of a minor Scottish poet, but discovers his quest for background material leads him to a most intriguing — and complicated — personal history, in Naming the Bones by Louise Welch.
Archie Lunan disappeared without a trace 30 years ago, his body lost at sea. He had wanted to be a writer of science fiction, but in a state of writer's block instead wrote and published a slim volume of poetry, his sole literary contribution. At the age of 16, Murray Watson read the poems and was enchanted by them. Now, an academic with a career as undistinguished as Lunan's, he wants — he needs — to express how important this man was to his life by penning a biography of him. Though the poet left little of substance behind, Watson methodically sorts through what is available, focusing initially on his known associates. The ones he can locate seem reluctant to offer up much information, proffering at most a piece or two of the puzzle that, out of context, don't seem relevant. But as Watson begins to assemble the clues he has accumulated, he learns there was more to the life — and death — of this man than he could have ever imagined.
Naming the Bones is far more of a thoughtful, intellectual mystery than an action-oriented one. Indeed, for quite some time it may seem to not be a mystery at all; the elements that make it so are developed gradually as the plot moves forward. The first half of the book sets the stage for Watson's biographical investigation, but an extended, interwoven personal subplot tends to detract somewhat from the story. The second half of the book is more plot driven, expressive and suspenseful. It is set on the island of Lismore, where Lunan lived and died, and while not geographically remote, there's a sense of isolation, even desolation, here that adds a noir-ish, almost Gothic, atmosphere to the narrative. That it tends to match the personalities of the biographer and his subject is not coincidental, and rather than appearing to be contrived, instead contributes to the overall appeal of how the story plays out.
From the simplicity of its premise to the complexity of its carefully crafted resolution, Naming the Bones is a remarkable, multi-layered novel of suspense.
Acknowledgment: Maryglenn McCombs Book Publicity provided an ARC of Naming the Bones for this review.
Review Copyright © 2011 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
The Bullet Trick
Canongate Books (Hardcover), July 2006
ISBN-13: 9781841957944; ISBN-10: 1841957941
Location(s) referenced in Naming the Bones: Scotland
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Naming the Bones by Louise Welsh
Publisher: Felony & Mayhem
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: February 2011
List Price: $14.95