‘Bone on Bone’ keeps readers riveted
“Bone on Bone” picks up where “Fast Falls the Night” left off. It is the seventh Bell Elkins novel set in West Virginia by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Julia Keller. Dr. Keller received her Ph.D. from the Ohio State University. In recent years she has served as the featured commencement speaker at Marshall University.
The focus of the latest book is the reckless policy of pharmaceutical companies that places profits above people. Its story arc centers on two families: the Toppings and the Banvilles.
When Brett Topping is shot to death one evening in his driveway, did the local drug dealer, Deke Foley, do it? Or did someone else?
In the novel, Tyler Topping, the son, had such a promising start in life. He was from the better part of town. Nonetheless, he was sucked into the vortex of drug addiction and resorted to stealing from his parents to support his habit. He has also become a dealer for Deke Foley.
In order to protect his son, Brett Topping has shadowed Deke Foley and collected evidence against him. Will this file (filled with names and dates of drug deliveries) protect Tyler Topping or make his father a target of Deke Foley’s wrath?
Keller throws out numerous red herrings in her exciting, fast-paced narrative. Brett Topping had been a prominent banker. Did his drug-addicted son Tyler, with whom he incessantly quarreled, kill him? Did his wife, Ellie Topping, mercifully shoot her own husband to put him out of his misery? Or did Alex Banville, Tyler’s best friend, do it? There are many suspects, but most fingers point to Deke Foley.
Readers familiar with Keller’s mystery series will reacquaint themselves with Jake Oakes, former deputy sheriff but now a paraplegic who wants to get back in the game, and Rhonda Lovejoy, the prosecutor who replaced Bell Elkins.
Following her release after a three-year stint in prison, Elkins, the former prosecuting attorney, is eager to prove herself up to the challenges of her new position.
Subplots include Jake’s attempted romantic relationship with Molly Drucker, the EMT who attends to him, and Lee Ann Fricke’s attempt to plant the Ten Commandments on the courthouse lawn.
As always, Keller brings her elegant and wry style to everything she describes. For example, in the first chapter a “middle aged skinny-legged man with a soccer-ball paunch and a bald head that looked like a greasy peeled egg (sat) under the too-bright fluorescent lights. The skin on his forearms - he wore a short-sleeved, blue-plaid shirt - was the color of margarine, and included a string of tan blotches that would, Bell surmised, warm the heart of a dermatologist who’d been pricing sailboats.”
One of the characters has a “stealth epiphany.” Instead of saying the pedestrian - there were a bunch of dirty mugs on the counter - she says: “the dirty mugs had accumulated next to the coffeemaker congregating in a grubby little club alongside the crusty spoons and empty Splenda packets.” Similarly, Bell “had known perfectly well that the fireplace was fake, but warmed herself by the happiness it promised.”
On the last few pages, the reader will discover the meaning of the book’s title. Along the way, the reader gets to know the exceedingly complex main character - Bell Elkins - better. The evidence is clear: She will work her way into your bones.
Leonard J. Deutsch worked as a professor of English from 1970 to 1986 at Marshall University, where he would go on to become dean of the Graduate College until 2009. He retired after 39 years at MU.