Bone Harvest by James Brogden
Titan Books, pb, £8.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Horrified by the reality of the First World War, he deserts, crawling through the mud and decay of No Man’s Land until he meets a saviour, Bill. Bill has incredible regenerative capabilities and confides in the deserter the secret of his power, worship of the ancient god Moccus. Sent home from the war with PTSD and tuberculosis, the deserter seeks Moccus’s favour, rising through the ranks of followers until he has the ultimate honour of butchering sacrifices to his new god. But something is wrong, Moccus’s power is failing, and after living for over a hundred years, the deserter believes a stronger sacrifice is needed to bring his god back to full strength. Human sacrifice. The quiet little middle England town of Dodbury is perfect. The ground is already soaked with the blood of murdered husbands and is full of loners who no one will notice is missing until it is too late.
There are so many things I love about this book; it’s hard to know where to start. When I read The Plague Stones, a previous work by Brogden, I was struck by the characters. Work was done upfront to show the characters at their best and worst, which put me in the difficult position of being sympathetic to all sides. The same has been done with Bone Harvest.
The beginning is a brutal assault on the senses of the horrors of war. Climbing through mud and dead bodies, sometimes pretending to be dead, the deserter, we never know his real name, is reborn as Everett, although he is often still referred to as the deserter. It makes for grim reading, we can relate to his desire for survival. Our shifting understanding of the mental impact of war on those not trained for it, those who were drafted, means he is not as repulsive as he should be. As the hero in his own story, the deserter just wants to live. Contrast him with Dennie, a widow in her sixties struggling with the effects of old age and possible early dementia who just wants a quiet life on her allotment. You feel for them both as they come into conflict with one another, obviously leaning more towards Dennie, she doesn’t want to kill anyone after all.
The choice of location is interesting too. It set on an allotment in a small failing town, Midsommer Murders without the affluence. But it is in this sort of quiet place that a religion based on human sacrifice could flourish for a few months, then move on without anyone suspecting. Dodbury is full of elderly people, or else people are leaving for better prospects. It is sunshine sinister with vegetables growing in blood.
The Plague Stones was in my top three favourite books from last year, so there was always a chance Bone Harvest wasn’t going to live up to my expectations. This was not the case. It was fast-paced and emotive with the life and soul of a sick young girl standing in the balance, and the only person protecting her is a woman who is losing the battle against age. I highly recommend it (and The Plague Stones if you haven’t already read it) and can’t wait for more from the author.