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29 May 2014

The Bone Garden
Tess Gerritsen
Bantam Press
Publication Date


A gruesome secret is about to be unearthed…
When a human skull is dug up in a garden near Boston, Dr Maura Isles is called in to investigate. She quickly discovers that the skeleton - that of a young woman - has been buried for over hundred years.
But who was the young woman? And how did she die?
It is the 1830s, and an impoverished medical student, Norris Marshall, is forced to produce corpses in order to further his studies in human anatomy.
It's a gruesome livelihood that will bring him into contact with a terrifying serial killer who slips from ballrooms to graveyards and into autopsy suites.
And who is far, far closer that Norris could ever imagine.

My review:

Crime and medical thriller with a great historic twist - another solid read from the never-disappointing Tess Gerritsen. 

The story of this book plays out in two different times with an interlinking plot. 

In the present day, divorced teacher Julie finds a skeleton whilst doing some gardening in her new house in Massachusetts. Tests quickly discover that the skeleton is more than 150 years old, and belonged to a young woman who was most likely murdered. Curiosity raided, Julie starts to make enquiries and discovers a murder series in Boston from 1830.

The story than takes us back to 1830 and to Irish immigrant Rose Connolly who witnesses her sister's death in hospital from puerperal fever after childbirth. Rose takes baby Margaret who survives and vows to look after her. But it becomes clear that people are interested in Margaret and want to take her away from Rose, so she starts to hide in the poor areas and underworld of the city. At the same time, we get introduced to Norris Marshall who studies medicine at Boston Medical College. As a poor student he finances his studies by digging up bodies from graves and selling them for medical research. The other students,mostly from rich families, look down at him. Than murders start to happen, and Norris always seems to be near when the murders happens. The college is under pressure to suspend him. He will cross paths with Rose who can give him an alibi and they will come together to discover a secret which will link back to Julie and the skeleton in present day Massachusetts.

This book was a true page turner for me. What will remain in my memory is the dreadful medical conditions at that time (many medications were yet to be discovered and hygiene standards of course nowhere near as to what we know). The hospital and all those women who gave birth deteriorating and dying from childbed fever - something which, as we now know, was mainly caused by poor hygiene standards during delivery and would be easily treatable now, but caused many maternal deaths at that time. Gerritsen describes the smell of death and the devastation in the hospital vividly and I felt myself shudder at the thought. (We easily forget that it is not that long time ago and what difference the good medical care makes to our lives!)

The other thing which will stay in my mind is the business with the dead bodies, the body stealing which was apparently not exactly uncommon, as it was very difficult for medical colleges to get the bodies to do their training / investigations - medical science as we know it was only starting up. 

Rose is a very likeable character and I started to feel for her straight away. Norris is a bit of a different story and in fact, I was not quite sure about him right until the end (without wanting to give too much away) - this is of course how Gerritsen manages to create the tension for us. 

You will love this book if you love a good mystery and are interested in the history of medicine.

About the author:

Biography (from Amazon)

Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen is also a physician, and she brings to her novels her first-hand knowledge of emergency and autopsy rooms. But her interests span far more than medical topics. As an anthropology student at Stanford University, she catalogued centuries-old human remains, and she continues to travel the world driven by her fascination with ancient cultures and bizarre natural phenomena. She started off her writing career with romance novels, now published by Mira. But in 1996 she switched to writing thrillers with her novel HARVEST, inspired by the anger she felt about the illegal trade in human organs. It was her first New York Times bestseller. Since then she has become an internationally bestselling author of crime novels, and her thriller series starring Boston detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles is the basis for the hit television series "Rizzoli & isles." She lives with her husband in Maine. For more information on Tess Gerritsen and her novels, visit her website: