The Bramble and the Rose  by Tom Bouman: Simmering, tension-packed murder mystery - book review -

When a headless body is found in woodland in the wild mountains of Pennsylvania, all the signs point to a marauding bear…

Friday, 3rd April 2020, 12:39 pm
Updated Friday, 3rd April 2020, 12:40 pm
The Bramble and the Rose
The Bramble and the Rose

The Bramble and the Rose

Tom Bouman

By Pam Norfolk

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When a headless body is found in woodland in the wild mountains of Pennsylvania, all the signs point to a marauding bear…

But when Officer Henry Farrell, from the ‘one-man police department’ at the local small town of Wild Thyme, discovers the victim was a private investigator, the inquiry soon escalates into one of the most sinister and dangerous murder cases he has ever had to tackle.

Readers of US author Tom Bouman’s bleak and brilliant Henry Farrell series – not least his Edgar and LA Times Book Award debut Dry Bones in the Valley – will have already fallen under the spell of this outstanding writer’s elegiac, elegant novels.

Bouman’s home is in north-eastern Pennsylvania where the once-quiet valleys of the shale-rich Appalachian mountains have become victims of the hungry, land-guzzling, fracking industry.

And it is in the shadow of this landscape – overtaken by torn-up trees, access roads, colossal machines and the drone of drills – that he sets his haunting tales of drugs, greed, desolation, old secrets, and feuds that divide families and neighbours and stretch back down the generations.

With complex, multi-faceted plots, exquisitely wrought characters, a powerful and very personal connection to both the history and people of this corner of the world, these riveting, haunting stories have become much-loved literary treats.

When the premature death of his wife ‘let the black dog in,’ Somalia war veteran Henry Farrell left Wyoming and headed back to his home town of Wild Thyme in the mountain region of Pennsylvania, a place of natural beauty that has been blighted by fracking and an influx of outsiders.

Now, he has got the lie of the land, is recently married to local girl Julie Meagher and enjoying the ‘sunny goodness’ of his new wife. The only things getting in the way of his happiness are his own proclivity for anxiety and depression, and his affair with a local married woman, Shelly Bray, which ended in her acrimonious divorce and angry departure from Wild Thyme.

Farrell hasn’t seen her since but there are rumblings that she is back and he hasn’t had the heart to tell Julie about the whole messy affair.

His peace is shattered when a decapitated body is found in the woods. All the signs point to a man-killing bear, and Farrell would just as soon leave this hunt to the Game Commission and bear biologist Dr Mary Weaver.

But the case becomes even more serious when it is discovered that the victim was retired private investigator Carl Dentry and that he had been murdered and then partly eaten by the rogue bear which must now be hunted and killed.

Before Farrell can find out what drew Dentry to sleepy Wild Thyme, his own nephew, 11-year-old Ryan Conkins, disappears into the hills and his old flame Shelly dies in suspicious circumstances, leaving Henry as the prime suspect.

Torn between protecting his family and clearing his name, Farrell takes matters into his own hands as he fights to hold on to the most he has ever had to lose…

Bouman’s hard-hitting, concise and word perfect story paints a stunning portrait of American rural life in a manner reminiscent of the late, great William Faulkner, author of 20th century classics like The Big Sleep and To Have and Have Not.

In trademark style, the history and fractured relationships of Wild Thyme Township, with its predominantly Irish ancestry, play a major role in this simmering, tension-packed murder mystery as the mentally volatile Farrell fights both his own demons and the menace that stalks his patch.

Against a vivid backdrop of nature red in tooth and claw, the disparate strands of the simmering plot ingeniously connect and boil over into a coruscating climax. Intelligent, subtle, and brimming with atmosphere, The Bramble and the Rose is writing of the first order.

(Faber & Faber, paperback, £8.99)