The Bone Readers is the first in Jacob Ross’ ‘Camaho Quartet’, featuring Michael (Digger) Digson. Set on a small Caribbean island, this is a more literary style of crime thriller, to be expected from a writer as acclaimed as Jacob Ross.
When Michael (Digger) Digson is recruited into DS Chilman’s new plain clothes squad on the small Caribbean island of Camaho he brings his own mission to discover who amongst a renegade police squad killed his mother in a political demonstration. Sent to London to train in forensics, Digger becomes enmeshed in Chilman’s obsession with a cold case – the disappearance of a young man whose mother is sure he had been murdered. When the enigmatic Miss K. Stanislaus , another of Chilman’s recruits, joins him on the case, they find themselves dragged into a world of secrets, disappearances and danger that demands every ounce of their brains, persistence and courage to survive.
This is no dull paint by number police procedural, it is an introduction to Digger’s world. We learn about the island, about his life so far, Ross showing us how he goes from living hand to mouth to becoming an expert in his field. Chilman is his mentor, the father figure who picks him up as a witness to a crime, then puts his trust in a young damaged man. I loved this relationship between the older, often drunk, detective and his protégé. I am excited to see how Digger develops over the course of the series.
The main crime of the book, the missing boy, takes time to develop. This is not the longest of books at just shy of 300 pages, but it was about a third of the way through before I felt that we were really concentrating on the case at hand. I did not mind this. Once we’re on the trail, the action and the peril is non stop. I enjoyed taking time to get to know the various characters of San Andrews. I felt like I knew Digger a little, understood his motivations, before seeing how he dealt with an escalating situation within a community who had many secrets to hide. This book is published by Peepal Tree Press, a small British press which is focused on Caribbean and Black British writing. Where bigger publishers may have wanted to get to the point faster, I think that this book excels because of its slow build to the crescendo.
Some people have an issue with writers using patois to add authenticity. Some say that they find it difficult to read but for me it was an addition to his brilliant description of the Camaho communities, the landscape, etc. Dialogue is written as the character would speak, and while Digger’s first person narration is more standard, you feel like you’re in his head. I though that the technique worked well in bringing character, Miss Stanislaus in particular, to life.
I have to say, I have no idea how the Jhalak committee are going to choose a winner. This would be a worthy contender and I look forward to the next instalment of Ross’ quartet.