White Bones Review
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Unabridged Audible Audiobook: 11 hours, 43 minutes
Read by Caroline Lennon

Graham Masterton’s White Bones (originally published as A Terrible Beauty) is proof positive that one can take a tired old serial killer and torture porn story and breathe it full of new life, simply by changing culture and setting.

Katie Maguire has a hell of a lot of stress. Not only is she married to a wheeler-dealer cheating husband, but she’s also the first female detective superintendent of Cork city in the southwest of Ireland. The southwest area of Ireland still strains at the edges of traditional and modern, and it’s a ripe location for all the dramatic forces that struggle entails.

When 11 skeletons are found on a local farm, Katie becomes embroiled in a narrative of dark, torturous crimes and archaic pagan rituals, all while negotiating city politics, her husband’s dodgy dealings with violent local gang members, and her own reputation as a woman in a man’s world.

Masterton creates a strong sense of place with his evocative prose and pitch-perfect dialect. Narrator Caroline Lennon (best known in Ireland as the voice of mystery solver Sister Fidelma), despite being a native of Co. Wicklow, captures the syntax and enunciations of the Co. Cork accent with ease, humor, and the requisite amount of pathos. With Lennon, as with any good actor/narrator, we forget the gender of the storyteller and focus on the journey—an important consideration when choosing an audiobook. The listener has to feel a part of the world and can rely on the narrator as guide.

As to the story. Masterton’s plot is not original, but the locale, culture, and idiosyncratic expressions of Cork lend an authentic atmosphere, which feels fresh and appropriately damp. Throw in elements of the occult, and we are in the world of supernatural horror, as Katie must stop ancient sacrificial rites intended to raise Morgana (depicted here as a Celtic deity of pain and torture), who will grant her resurrector all that he or she wishes. Masterson has put a nice motivational spin on the old horror standard of raising Beelzebub (or, in this case, those of his nasty ilk who roamed pagan Ireland) and dropped the trope on 21st century Ireland, as the country and population struggles to pick up the economic pieces after the failure of the Celtic tiger. Toss in some suspect red herrings, and you have a supernatural thriller that—because of the traditional police procedural elements and characterization—never drifts too far from the bounds of believability.

Primarily known for his 1976 novel, The Manitou, Masterton has a diverse spread of literary talents, yet he’s never reached the level of fame his contemporaries have achieved (the late James Herbert comes to mind), even in his native Britain. With Katie Maguire, Masterton has found a perfect female hero for the 21st century, and if there is justice in the world, a television series chronicling Maquire’s struggles is already under consideration. But, for now, I content myself with White Bones and its sequel, Broken Angels, which I will also review soon.

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