Nell Churcher is the protagonist of the story. She lives in London, on a narrowboat without a permanent mooring. She shares her humble abode with fifteen year old Billie, who is the daughter of Nell’s former boyfriend. Despite her affluent family, Nell has chosen to distance herself from them and makes her living by selling her stained glass pieces at the market. Her family are famous for a book that was published fifty years ago. “The Golden Bones” was an internationally renown treasure quest book which spurred countless followers aka ‘bonehunters’. The quest, based upon an old English folk song, tasked the treasure hunters with finding the bones to the skeleton of Elinor which were scattered by Nell’s father, the illustrator of the book. “The Golden Bones” is now coming up to its 50th anniversary and the family have planned a video launch of the anniversary edition of the book. This launch proves to go disastrously wrong, putting the well-being of Nell in jeopardy. For Nell (Eleanor) was named after the Elinor of the book, and some obsessive ‘fans’ (aka nutters) are finding it difficult to separate fiction from reality.
Frank and Cora Churcher live in one side of a Victoria semi-detached house in the Vale of Health, London. Frank’s best friend Lal lives with his wife Bridget on the other side. Their relationship is a complicated, twisted, and co-dependant disaster waiting to happen. To further connect the two families, the Lally’s daughter Rose married the Churcher’s son, Dom. And so it goes… The two families are intrinsically enmeshed in such a way that proves toxic for all involved.
Though she has distanced herself from this convoluted family, Nell does still care for them, especially her brother Dom.
Family is the core of this novel, albeit a complicated, dysfunctional, and almost incestuous one. “It is this ping-ponging between irritation and sympathy and what I suppose is probably, despite everything, love, that makes spending time with my family so exhausting.” I love that quote, because who, if they’re honest, hasn’t felt that way at one point?
This was a character-rich novel and many of them were unlikable. I really liked Nell Churcher and was enthralled when reading of her life with teenager Billie. The Churcher/Lally extended family, not so much…
I enjoyed the writing style, and the vividly rendered descriptions. I did struggle with the first third or so of the book, and wondered if I would become more engaged in the narrative – but never fear… I did!
Treasure hunts, artistic temperaments, duplicity, crowd mentality, deception, betrayal, and familial dysfunction are all themes running throughout the novel. And if I wanted to be a bit facetious, I’d say there were some family ‘skeletons’ as well.
The ‘bonehunters’ were at times brilliant and at other times scarily moronic. Aristotle said that “No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness.” The influence of the power of social media on the obsessive mind was frightening – and all too credible.
There were myriad plot twists and surprising reveals. It is the type of thriller that you either love or tolerate. Read it and see what you decide.
Note: The collective noun for bones is a ‘humility’ – I learned something new from reading this book.
This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Mobius Books courtesy of Amanda Harkness, Senior Publicist Mobius Books – Part of Hachette Book Group.
Publication date: January 24, 2023
Publisher: Mobius Books
Erin Kelly is the Sunday Times bestselling author of He Said/She Said, The Poison Tree and several other standalone psychological thrillers. She also wrote the novelization of the award-winning TV show Broadchurch. Her work has been critically acclaimed and translated into thirty one languages. Erin also works as a freelance journalist and creative writing tutor. She lives in London, England with her family.