Have you ever seen these pictures of a professional illustrator who let her four year old finish her drawings? That’s exactly what this book is like: it starts off well, a little weird but well done, and then in the second half of the book it’s amateur hour. On steroids.
On a remote Irish farm, eleven bodies are discovered: their bones are haphazardly strewn about underneath a barn. Weirdly, each thigh bone has a hole in it with a small doll on a wire looped through. The doll’s crudely bound in lace and riddled with nails and fish hooks, like a little voodoo doll. Inspector Katie Maguire, Ireland’s first female DSI (or whatever her rank is, I get them mixed up) sets out to discover who put the bodies there, but soon discovers more sinister forces are afoot. Well, she would.
This is the second Masterton book I’ve read and at first, I was pleasantly surprised by this one. The last one was fun in a bonkers way and full of (I assume) unintentionally hilarious details and plot twists. The first half of White Bones isn’t bad. Sure, it’s a little predictable and the violence against women (OF COURSE the victims are women) is gratuitous and unnecessary, as it is with so many books in the genre, but it’s remarkably subtle compared to the other book, from Katie’s strained relationship with her husband to the way she mourns a lost child. Yes, the villains are cartoonish – half Scorcese on coke, half Paddy’s Book of Irish clichés – but they’re fun, at least.
And then the second half of the book starts and I cannot pick what baffled me most, so here’s a list of things that made my brain give a needle scratch sound
- The response to the death of one character’s husband is basically “oh, so sad. Anyway…”
- The same character is on a date with another man when she gets the call and SHE TAKES HER DATE TO THE HOSPITAL (mind that the husband was alive and talking a week earlier)
- One character is sexually assaulted by another and thinks to herself “oh well, this is probably normal.”
- Katie, for a seasoned cop and the first woman in a position of power, is weirdly gullible.
- Dismemberment. SO MUCH DISMEMBERMENT.
- Casual lesbianism through the eyes of a straight man is always a head scratcher.
- There’s a subplot where one guy beats up his girlfriend and Katie lets it go because… Reasons?
- The plot resolution is, I shit you not, found in a secret notebook written in code.
- There is a whole supernatural angle and Masterton has NO IDEA how to handle it – as in, doesn’t seem to be able to make up his mind about whether or not to include it, let alone how to handle it.
There is also a general Daily Mail-ification which is hilariously unsubtle, from the tall American woman who must be a lesbian (because she has short hair and does not want children) to the villain’s gender issues to the lacklustre disclaimers about the Irish Travelling community. Masterton is also a prime contenter for the Bad Sex Awards as well as a r/menwritingwomen mainstay. But the biggest WTF in this book is the way people talk to each other, especially in the second half. It’s weirdly stilted and forced. It’s both painful and hilarious.
This book only really works if you read it ironically. It’s like watching a bad American Idol audition, where you know you’ve got better things to do but dammit, it’s fun. It’s like McDonalds where you know full well you can get better food somewhere else, but you still come back because of the saltiness. It reminds me of getting slightly hammered and slagging off a bad film with roommates while watching.
It’s deeply stupid, is what I’m saying, and a lot of fun, even if that’s not the intention.