“An intriguing dark psychological thriller—truly brilliant!” --Lisa Jackson
A stunning, wonderfully assured psychological thriller that evokes Gillian Flynn and Alice Sebold, The Bones of You revolves around a young girl’s murder and one woman’s obsession with uncovering the secrets in an idyllic English village.
I have a gardener’s inherent belief in the natural order of things. Soft petalled flowers that go to seed. The resolute passage of the seasons. Swallows that fly thousands of miles to follow the eternal summer.
Children who don’t die before their parents.
When Kate receives a phone call with news that Rosie Anderson is missing, she’s stunned and disturbed. Rosie is eighteen, the same age as Kate’s daughter, and a beautiful, quiet, and kind young woman. Though the locals are optimistic—girls like Rosie don’t get into real trouble—Kate’s sense of foreboding is confirmed when Rosie is found fatally beaten and stabbed.
Who would kill the perfect daughter, from the perfect family? Yet the more Kate entwines herself with the Andersons—graceful mother Jo, renowned journalist father Neal, watchful younger sister Delphine—the more she is convinced that not everything is as it seems. Anonymous notes arrive, urging Kate to unravel the tangled threads of Rosie’s life and death, though she has no idea where they will lead.
Weaving flashbacks from Rosie’s perspective into a tautly plotted narrative, The Bones of You is a gripping, haunting novel of sacrifices and lies, desperation and love.
Praise for Debbie Howells and The Bones of You
“The Bones of You is one of those books that captivates you from the first page, holds tight and never lets go. I savored every word, character and psychological twist. Truly brilliant!” --Lisa Jackson, #1 New York Times bestselling author
It’s true, what they say about when you die. In the final, terrible seconds of my life, eighteen years flash before my eyes.
It’s when I understand the difference between life and death. It’s time. Did you know it takes 0.0045 seconds for an input to reach the brain and a further 0.002 for a reaction to happen? How long it takes to gasp with shock? How long, from when the knife first rips into me, before the agony starts? That seconds can stretch into eternity?
I feel myself leave my body, breaking free of the invisible threads that join me to it, until I’m floating, looking down at the blood, a thick, dark pool seeping under the leaves into the earth. And though my brain is starved of oxygen, flooded with endorphins, I’m hanging on, waiting for an unknown something.
And then it starts, in freeze-frames, moments of time caught like small plastic snow globes without the snow. I see my parents—too young to be my parents—but I know my mother’s pale hair and the smile that doesn’t reach her eyes, my father’s firm hand pressed on her shoulder. They’re holding a baby in front of a small redbrick house I don’t recognize.
It fades and blurs into another image, then another. Then, when I’m five years old, my pictures become motion pictures, and I’m in them. Living, hoping, dreaming, all over again—only this time, it’s different.
The wonderful childhood I had, the toys, far-flung holidays, the TV in my bedroom, which I was so proud of, all still there, only shattered into a million pieces, bloodstained, dust-covered, shrouded in inky blackness. Then the voices start. The secrets no one must ever know, which aren’t secrets anymore, because I can hear them. The face that was always watching me, that knows the truth.
I’m looking at the movie of my life.
I put down the phone and just stand there, completely still.
“Mum? What is it?”
Everything in this house is Grace’s business. At eighteen, she’s allowed secrets, but no one else. When I don’t reply instantly, it’s not good enough.
“Mother, who were you talking to?”
“Sorry.” You know those moments when your head is bursting with too many thoughts to form the words? My eyes fix blankly on something—a spot on the wall, an empty mug—not seeing them. “That was Jo. Something really odd’s happened. Rosie’s gone missing.”
Living at opposite ends of a small village, with daughters at the same school, Jo and I belong to a group of mothers who meet now and then. I know that she’s married to Neal, a renowned journalist, whose handsome face I’ve seen looking out of our TV screen more times than I’ve actually met him, reporting from the middle of war zones. That they have two daughters, drive new cars—her black Range Rover and Neal’s BMW X5—and live in this big, architect-designed house, which I’ve been inside only once or twice. It’s a friendship that extends to the occasional coffee or gossipy lunch, but it’s Rosie to whom I’ve found myself drawn. They’re the same age, Grace and Rosie, A levels behind them, the start of hard-won university places a few short weeks away, but the similarities end there. I know Rosie as a shy girl, quieter than Grace’s crowd and who shares my love of horses.
Grace rolls her eyes. “She’s probably just hanging out with Poppy and hasn’t told Jo, because she wouldn’t let her. Poppy’s a slut.”
She says it good-naturedly, like idiot or moron, but it’s an ugly word on my daughter’s lips. The reprimand’s out before I can stop it.
“Gracie . . .”
And then my mind’s wandering, as I try to imagine what’s happened to her, seeing the clear eyes she hides behind the fair hair that falls across her face.
“Seriously, Mum. You haven’t met Poppy. Her skirt’s so short, you can see her panties. And she snogs anything—even Ryan Francis.”
Ryan Francis is the worst male specimen on the planet, according to Grace, who’s yet to explain exactly why.
“But Rosie’s not like that, surely?” I struggle to imagine the Rosie I know snogging an indiscriminate anyone. She has a gentleness I’ve seen with my horses, which comes from her own instincts. They mooch peacefully around her through the long grass, like she’s one of them.
“Duh. I’m talking about Poppy, Mother. But, you know, peer pressure and all that . . . I wouldn’t be surprised. . . .”
Alarm bells start ringing. What if she’s right and Rosie’s got in with a bad crowd or, worse, been persuaded to run off with some less than desirable boy? Should I say something to Jo? Then I see Grace’s face. She’s winding me up.
“Well, whatever,” I say, annoyed, because this isn’t something to joke about. “If you hear anything, let me know. Jo’s really worried. She hasn’t seen Rosie since yesterday, and her mobile goes straight to voice mail. If it was you, Grace, I’d be out of my mind.”
Grace hesitates. “I can get Poppy’s number, if you like.” Flicking her long red hair over her shoulder as she busies herself texting.
Thanks to the interconnectedness of today’s teenagers, in a few seconds she has it. “I’ll send it to your phone.”
Half an hour later, I get through to Jo. She’s jittery, not surprisingly, only half listening, her mind jumping all over the place.
“Not Poppy Elwood?” I can hear from her voice, she’s shocked. “Oh, Kate, Rosanna wouldn’t be friends with her. . . .”
“Well, according to Grace, she is.”
“Oh my God . . .” I can hear her imagining her worst nightmare, that her daughter’s run off or eloped. Jo’s inclined to fuss over her daughters, even though Rosie’s eighteen and about to leave home. “The police will find her, won’t they? You hear about this kind of thing happening . . . but they always do find them, don’t they?”
“Try not to worry, Jo.” Sounding far more confident than I feel. “I’m sure they will—if it comes to that. She’ll probably walk in any moment with a perfectly reasonable explanation. But why don’t you call Poppy?” I remind her. “You never know. She might be able to tell you something.”
“Yes, I suppose I should.” She’s quiet. “I still can’t believe she’s friends with that girl.”
I know how she feels. All mothers have them. The friends who threaten everything we’ve ever wanted for our daughters with another way to live, another set of standards, which we’re terrified they’ll prefer to ours.
“She can’t be all bad, or Rosie wouldn’t be friends with her,” I point out. “And at the end of the day, she’s your daughter. She knows what’s right. She’s not stupid.”
Jo’s silence echoes my own hesitation, because it’s not something Rosie’s even hinted at, but I’m curious.
“I was thinking. . . . Does she have a boyfriend, Jo? Only if she does, he might know something.”
“No. She doesn’t. She’s put all her time into studying. Not like . . .” She leaves the sentence open-ended.
“I’ll get off the phone,” I say hastily, ignoring her gibe at the students who work hard but play hard, too. Like Grace. “She might be trying to call you. Will you let me know when she comes home?”
Rosie will turn up. I’m sure of it. I have a gardener’s inherent belief in the natural order of things. Soft-petaled flowers that go to seed. The resolute passage of the seasons. Swallows that fly thousands of miles to follow the eternal summer.
Children who don’t die before their parents.
Debbie Howells Q & A
What is your book about?
The Bones of You is a psychological thriller, about the murder of a teenaged girl and the events that follow in the small village where she lived. As well as a crime to be solved, it’s about family and relationships, secrets and lies, and looks at what makes people the way they are, all set against the scenic backdrop of English countryside.
Have you always wanted to write psychological thrillers?
The first books I wrote were women’s commercial fiction. I self-published my first two under a pen name, then wrote my third, Wildflowers. At one point, I had six agents who were interested in Wildflowers, but not enough to take me on. So close to the dream – but not close enough… As all writers know, rejection is a harsh reality of trying to get published, and I took that interest as a positive. I self-published Wildflowers, but at that point I decided that if I wanted a chance of being traditionally published, I had to write something different. That turned out to be The Bones of You. I had no idea what would follow.
Where do you write?
In a small upstairs room, with a view that changes year round, of trees, fields, sky. To a soundtrack of the wind, cows, birdsong – and sometimes music. Often I’m joined by our golden retriever, Bernard, who sleeps at my feet or by one of our cats, who are a little more demanding, loudly announcing their arrival then positioning themselves for maximum effect between me and my keyboard... Or across the manuscript I’m editing…
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Read. Then just write. Start getting the words down – editing can follow – and keep writing.
Sometimes the words flow, but when they don’t, still write - something.
Rejection can be tough. That manuscript you’ve slaved over, that your friends and family love… When you submit to agents and get that brief email, or even no email at all, and you know that this time round, no-one wants it, keep writing.
Keep notebooks – in your bag, car, beside your bed, because those brilliant ideas that spring out of nowhere just as quickly disappear…
What inspired you to write The Bones of You?
An interest in the darker side of people. The many layers to them. What makes us the way we are. Then wanting to give the story beauty in some way, with an idyllic village setting and language… I’m also inspired by where I live, which is a beautiful corner of West Sussex, where I walk on the Downs every day.